Personal brand is very important to Sophie Chandauka, one of Britain’s leading black lawyers who has been named as one of the 40 Rising Stars of the European legal profession under 40.
Born in Zimbabwe and, via scholarships, educated in Canada, the USA and in Oxford, Sophie is now Global COO, Shared Services and Banking Operations, Morgan Stanley. A seasoned corporate lawyer having trained to become a Senior Associate in Baker & McKenzie’s London Corporate Finance Department, Sophie worked on high profile transactions involving The Body Shop, L’Oréal, Nike, Macquarie and the London Stock Exchange plc amongst others.
Sophie actively mentors young people and is on the board of trustees of Prince Harry’s charity Sentebale, which helps youngsters in Lesotho, with a special emphasis on those orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Here she tells us why her personal brand is so important.
What would you say your personal brand says about you?
It speaks of integrity, excellence and drive. Given my track record and job title, people assume that I must be male, middle-aged, and Caucasian but I defy all those expectations. It also speaks of corporate savviness – you can only successfully defy the odds against you as a black female immigrant in Britain by being savvy about how you navigate life.
Have you actively built your personal brand?
When I arrived in Britain and joined Baker & McKenzie I knew I was too different to make it to the top the conventional way. I decided to be known for excellence and beautiful, enjoyable presentations. I was not part of the City fraternity so I had to find a different way of getting noticed. I read the Financial Times one very early morning and discovered speculation about an imminent takeover offer for The Body Shop. Despite being a junior lawyer and not the “natural” choice for a lead role on the deal, I wrote to the client relationship partner who was also Baker’s Head of Corporate. To my surprise, I was staffed on the deal as a primary lawyer! During this deal I met Suzie Flook, the Body Shop Group’s General Counsel, and she recognised my talent and created further opportunities with The Body Shop, which was a crown jewel client for my firm. Her opinion meant the Baker & McKenzie partners recognised me as a rising star very early on.
Once in the middle ranks, I was possibly more aware and deliberate about what would become my “brand” – I wouldn’t work with clients involved in gambling, conflict or those which exploited women and I associated myself with some ground-breaking initiatives in the business championing diversity and inclusion.
When your personal brand has preceded you are some people surprised about your personality when they meet or get to know you?
Many people may assume that as a female black corporate lawyer, I am ruthless, task-oriented and Machiavellian. In fact, although I am strategic and insist on everyone giving their best, I care very much about people and am quite maternal. I believe strongly in kindness and have a relaxed, empathetic and collegiate leadership style, while still demanding high levels of performance from my team.
How important has your personal brand been to your career?
It’s been critical. It was probably because of my professional credentials, internal travel, love for Africa and passion about the power of role models, education and children that I got appointed to the board of Prince Harry’s charity Sentebale. There I met Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the CEO of Virgin Money. After two years she invited me to meet her team and to join her senior leadership team to launch Virgin Money as the leading challenger retail bank in the UK in late 2011.
How has your personal brand helped you when building your networks?
My clients and employers have often nominated me for awards. This has helped me to build a reputation as a businesswoman, which has enabled me to spread my wings beyond being just a “good lawyer”. Personal network members look me up with interesting opportunities, and family networks help too. Citizenship networks are also important. I do as much as I can here in the UK, as I would like to build a portfolio career in the governance space in Britain. I view myself as a citizen of the world with a keen desire to be an ambassador for empowerment of women and Africa in particular.
Has your personal brand ever impacted you negatively?
No, not that I am aware of. I cannot control how others chose to interpret me, but if there is every a misunderstanding, I will of course do what I can to correct the position, within reason!
What advice would you give someone about promoting their personal brand to those that matter in their organisation?
Sometimes it is hard to find champions internally. You can influence your position by eliciting feedback and support from influential people outside the business, such as clients or the wider business world. In my case, it was Susie Flook. Also, if you are winning awards for excellence externally, your business can hardly ignore you!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to change people’s perception of them?
Think about why you want to rebrand. If it’s to reveal the real you, fine, but if it’s not about authenticity (i.e. conformity), do you want it? Are you sure you want to change yourself or are you just in the wrong place? Get a good coach or mentor who can act as a mirror and sounding board, and then work together to devise a game plan –remember, you can’t rebrand overnight, and to thine own self be true!
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