One thing I have been noticing more and more is the number of women entering the field of Asset Investment Planning & Management (AIPM). In fact, many of Copperleaf’s clients are women who are taking a leading role in their organizations in planning and managing their asset investments more strategically, to minimize risk and create the highest value for their organizations.
Certainly the prevalence of women is not evident by attending an asset management conference…yet. But it occurred to me that this is a great role for women in a field where you might not expect to find many women! And I believe this is the beginning of an exciting trend and would like to highlight some of these women—and the interesting work they’re doing—to establish some role models and shine a light on this as a possible career path for young women.
In this article, we are featuring Sarah Sayer, Investment Planning Manager at Affinity Water. Affinity Water is the UK’s largest water-only supplier, serving over 3.6 million people with more than 950 million liters of drinking water every day.
How did you get involved in the field of asset management?
I was fortunate to secure an undergraduate placement with a subsidiary company of BAE Systems. Post-graduation, I returned to their graduate program where I was able to gain experience in many different parts of the business before being offered a permanent position as a structural engineer. I spent a few years commuting to Madrid to oversee structural trials of my company’s products. This was in the shadow of the Ariane 5 space rocket which meant I could genuinely call myself a ‘rocket scientist’! As I gained experience, I met people who had numerous PhDs in things I couldn’t spell, let alone understand. I learned that I was good at translating between the seriously clever folk and management. So I changed direction and moved into program management—a discipline I’ve been in ever since.
Every moment of my working day is paid for by the customers we supply water to, so honesty, integrity, and doing the right thing are my highest priorities.
What attracted you to this field?
When I was 13, following a presentation at school, I joined the Air Cadets. I was learning about combustion engines and powered flight (as well as taking aircraft controls on occasion!), and loved it. I was fascinated by aerodynamics, fluid mechanics and jet engines—so my passion for mechanical engineering was born. I gained work experience at an aircraft restoration company at London Biggin Hill Airport and designed a hybrid helicopter while studying for my A-levels. I’m delighted that my three-year old son has inherited my love for flying machines!
What are the most rewarding aspects of the work you do?
I love working for the water industry. As a quasi-public service, it passes the ‘pub test’: I can be proud about what I do and bore people to death over a socially-distanced pint in a beer garden. Every moment of my working day is paid for by the customers we supply water to, so honesty, integrity, and doing the right thing are my highest priorities.
In my investment planning role, it’s not just about making sure I do a good job, it’s also about helping the company make the best possible decisions. I am often in awe of my colleagues who have worked in the water sector for decades—their knowledge and love for the industry is humbling and I too hope to be admitted to the hallowed halls of water industry fame one day!
I love working with newer staff members and supporting them through mentoring or coaching to help them achieve their goals. I hope, and try, to make a positive difference every day to a colleague, a customer, my boss, or the assets that bring water to our customers’ taps.
I have a mantra that goes through my head all day, every day . . . 'Spend our customers’ money wisely.' That’s my job, and something I’m trying to get everyone to think about!
I’m also a professional review interviewer with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, with whom I am chartered. I passionately believe in challenging the demographics of the institution and giving junior engineers the best chance to showcase their achievements in their chartership interviews. I see it as my job to give them the best possible chance to become chartered.
Where are you (and your team) making the biggest impact?
I have a mantra that goes through my head all day, every day. My colleagues must be fed up of hearing me say it! “Spend our customers’ money wisely.” That’s my job, and something I’m trying to get everyone to think about! Get value out of everything, don’t go to meetings in threes just because you might miss something, use facts, evidence, and data to quantify benefits and risks to make your case, and be proud to deliver a high quality outcome—whether a report, a presentation to your CEO, or a set of minutes from a meeting.
What do you think are the biggest challenges?
For the water industry, the biggest challenges are:
- rising customer expectations
- an aging asset base that is not being replaced at a sustainable rate
- reducing water bills to protect customers who are in vulnerable circumstances
- the increasing cost of energy
But the water industry is resilient and I'm certain it will rise to these challenges through innovation, ingenuity, and a passion to do what’s right.
Would you recommend asset management to other women as a career?
Yes, of course! I’ve been lucky to have never felt the pressure to choose a career that’s less male dominated. I found a passion and followed it (my mum’s Welsh roots and bloody-mindedness clearly passed through to me)! I would encourage everyone to consider asset management as a career—and from my experience, engineering is a fantastic springboard.
To learn more about other women making an impact in this emerging field, check out the rest of the articles in this series here.
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