To continue our ‘Women in the Spotlight’ series, Sarah Ellerby, CEO of NPIF investee business Nova Pangaea talks about her biggest role models and the best pieces of advice she had been given on her business journey.
– Explain your role in the business and what your business does?
Nova Pangaea Technologies is a cleantech company, with a proprietary patented process called REFNOVA. Our technology, process and expert know-how sustainably converts what would otherwise be unusable plant biomass into valuable biofuels and natural chemicals. It’s sustainable, environmentally friendly, and extends existing uses from the natural world. It is a game changer in terms of fossil fuel replacement. As CEO, my job is to accelerate and deliver its commercial strategy.
– How has NPIF helped your business?
The funding from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance was part of a £3m round (due to close in Q1 2020) which has helped the company to complete its demonstration plant at Wilton, Redcar, so it an deliver the REFNOVA process and accelerate the commercial offering.
– Do you work in a male dominated industry and, if so, would you say it’s impacted your career?
I have worked in male dominated industries – it’s not for the faint hearted but has made me stronger for it. I’ve been in the middle of complex negotiations where the seller refused to deal directly with me because I was a woman. At first, it was hard to comprehend, but it forces you to think creatively and strategically; reverse engineer a situation; think about the end goal and how you get there. What matters — you got there; not necessarily the process you had to adhere.
– Who would you class as your biggest influence/role model/mentor and why?
Robert Hanson. Robert entrusted me with his network and introduced me to the world of finance and M&A. Robert would have me look at various companies and evaluate for investment, growth, acquisition, or funding. He threw me in at the deep end, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Being a former professional athlete, failure isn’t an option and I relish a challenge.
– What is the best and most inspiring piece of advice you have been given on your journey to far?
As a CEO, it’s important to acknowledge that we don’t have all the right answers. This doesn’t mean you don’t know what you are doing, or incompetent. When this happens—the smart CEOs ask for help – they’re not driven by ego or personal agenda, they’re driven by the result, impact, or goal. Surround yourself with smart people and serve them, so they can become their best self. Together we win. Without them, a CEO will not be successful. Listen2Learn.
My favourite quote is – “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people, so they can tell us what to do.” Steve Jobs.
– Would you say more needs to be done across all sectors to create a better gender balance?
Gender should not matter; it should be based on equal skills and performance. Kudos to California—implementing a new law mandating all public companies in the state should have a woman on the board by the end of 2019 (New York Times). There has been several studies (Gallup) and evidence supporting gender diversity with higher business metrics such as profitability and productivity. Diversity and inclusion aren’t lip service; it’s an action that we must all be challenged to solve through culture and workplace deficiencies such as gender pay gap and work/life balance.
– What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
It reminds me of my journey and how hard it’s been to get here, but it’s made me who I am today. I’m proud. I want to give others the courage and support to drive through those barriers—if I did it, so can you!
The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.
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