“I really want people to ask me not what we need to do, but how we need to do it.”
We are excited to welcome Sarah Miller Wright, who recently joined our team as an EIR, to support our founders. Sarah brings two decades of experience in commercial and functional roles at some of Canada’s largest telecom and financial services companies. She thrives in helping organizations take on their biggest issues and transform, most recently as Manulife’s Chief Operations Officer.
Throughout her leadership positions at Virgin Mobile, Bell, and Shaw Communications, Sarah built up expertise in operations, customer experience, and product development. During her seven years at Shaw, she led strategic initiatives across the technology, operations and commercial business units, achieving transformative digital adoption and shifting the company towards agile ways of working.
Based in Waterloo, Sarah earned her Executive MBA from the Ivey School of Business. She sits on the National Youth Orchestra of Canada Board of Directors and Governance Committee.
Sarah can advise founders on many aspects of their businesses – from building operational excellence to organizational design. She sat down with us and shared a piece of advice she once didn’t want to hear, a question she wished she’d be asked more often, and her appetite to learn new things.
Tell us something most people may not know about you.
When I was 18, I lived in Australia, travelling, learning to surf and working in cafés for a couple of years before I decided to go to university and start my career. I loved the experience of learning and growing so much. I’ve picked up a few other things throughout my life; I learned to skate and play hockey in my 20s, and ski in my 30s. I’m due to learn something new in my 40s!
Can you share one of the biggest challenges or failures that you learned from?
One of my biggest challenges was at Shaw while taking advantage of some opportunities to modernize and centralize our customer experience operations. We underestimated the impact of the localized experience, which had been a big selling feature for a lot of customers. We went a little bit too fast, too soon, and we ended up re-integrating the personalized aspects into the customer journey; this was a little less efficient in the short term but better overall from a customer’s perspective while achieving exceptional retention. You need to talk to people to figure out what’s working and not working. Technology is meant to make things better, easier, faster – but it is also important to recognize the human side of the interaction, so they are not in conflict with each other.
What’s the best piece of advice you received in your career?
I didn’t want it at the time, but it was very useful. It came from a CTO and COO I worked for at Shaw as we were trying to work through a pretty significant setback on our product roadmap. I was trying to find answers around it. He said, “I think you’re avoiding it. What is in your way is your way.”
I looked at him and said, “that does not make sense to me.” And now I say it to people all the time! Essentially, it is something that can really help you hone in and focus on the hard things you have to do sometimes. Once you get through it, your path on the other side is your real path; you haven’t taken 20 detours to go around it and ended up in the wrong place.
What’s a question you wish people would ask you more often?
One of the things I want people to ask me is not what we need to do, but how we need to do it. I think that sometimes people feel like the how should be easy once you figure out the what. I fundamentally believe good execution with a good strategy is more effective and more successful than a fantastic strategy and terrible execution.
What kind of infrastructure do I need to do that? What kind of tool sets? How are we going to sequence? How are we going to prioritize? Sometimes you can spend 85% of your time trying to align on the strategy and 15% on the execution; that should be the reverse. Learning by doing is a critical skill that will make a company successful.
What energizes you? How do you take care of yourself ?
I actually achieved full burnout a couple of times in my career, and I don’t look at it as something I’m really proud of. I exercise every single day; sometimes it’s 20 minutes, and it’s yoga, and sometimes it’s a full workout. I can’t say enough good things about the basics around eating real food that you enjoy and nourishes your body and doing things that make you happy and bring you joy outside of your career. Focus on what matters today and be clear about where you’re going to put your energy at any given moment, then follow through on that.
In your role at Inovia, what questions should founders come to you with?
I am here to help on the growth stage: strategic execution, helping companies scale effectively and realize breakthrough results. I can offer a fair amount of background and experience in everything from c-level engagement and alignment to developing customer experience journeys and connecting them to GTM and product strategy. I also love talking about character-based leadership development with executives, so I can work with founders and senior leaders around building the types of organizational culture and teams that will be successful. I can be pretty obsessive about measuring what matters the most and building that kind of accountability into the company. I’m genuine in providing honest feedback from the POV of who they are selling to since I have sat in that seat many times. ESG is a key area of focus I have pursued as an advisor to established organizations – I am always happy to chat through where a company is on their journey.
Want to benefit from Sarah’s expertise? Get in touch!