Getting To Know You: Sophie Livingstone, MD, Trustees Unlimited

Sophie Livingstone

Sophie Livingstone tells us about the advice that she would you give to someone starting out in your career?

What do you currently do at Trustees Unlimited?

As Managing Director of Trustees Unlimited, it is my responsibility to be an advocate for greater diversity and fresh thinking in charity boards. We do this by connecting business with the charity world, to open up new recruitment opportunities for charities amongst a highly-skilled pool of people.

We place trustees from major corporations such as EY, RBS and Google, who bring fresh thinking, expertise and lived experiences to a charity’s board.

In particular, I work closely with clients to deliver our Step on Board programme. Step On Board is a board-level volunteering programme which we run for businesses who want to deliver innovative employee engagement programmes, help upskill their workforce and give something back through meaningful collaboration with the charity sector.

What is the inspiration behind your career?

I’ve always needed a purpose. For me, that was always about making a difference in the world.

I grew up in South Wales but moved to the home counties in my teens. The difference in opportunities available to people simply because of where they were born has always angered me and motivated me to tackle inequalities throughout my career. I suppose you could say that this has been my inspiration.

Whether it be supporting pupils from disadvantaged communities to enjoy and succeed at school with City Year UK or connecting smart business thinking to the charity world by placing trustees from RBS at a youth homelessness charity in Scotland, my career has always been about trying to help change the systems that are holding people back.

What defines your way of working?

I like to work collaboratively with people, bringing together the right mix of skills and attitudes to make things happen.

I’m also always drawn to the big picture. This helps me keep focused on the goal, but also over the years it’s meant I’ve also had to train myself to think about the less exciting details that unfortunately have a role to play in every job!

Who do you admire?

I admire anyone who takes the time to help others coming up behind them. I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors and champions over the years and I’ve tried to do the same for others. After all, as Madeline Albright (someone I definitely admire) says, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.

What would you tell your younger self?

I would probably tell myself to stop wasting energy worrying that having children would mess up my career. In my experience, you can have it all – just not necessarily all at the same time. But life is bigger than just your job and success can mean lots of different things to different people.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career?

You will always find opportunities in your network, so build it, nurture it and grow it from the get-go. My network is still one of the main ways I win new business or create new collaboration opportunities. In business, it really is all about who you know. Social media can be an invaluable tool in maintaining connections. The challenge when you’re starting out is to not just focus on the task in hand but nurture those contacts which may result in incredible opportunities 10 or 20 years down the line – you just never know where the opportunity will come from.

How do you continue to grow professionally?

By constantly broadening my horizons – I’m doing a lot of reading right now about diversity and inclusion which is sharpening my thinking in this area. Networking and meeting new people, whilst also keeping up with existing contacts is important. But more than this, it is the ability to stay open to learning new things. For example, I’m doing a GDPR training course soon – not the most exciting I can think of, however I look at it as a professional investment because the more I understand it the better I will be at running a business.

Reflection is also important. I challenge myself to look back and think what I can do better or how to improve. I’ve been fortunate to have many great mentors over the years who I’ve been able to lean on for different issues or challenges. Likewise, paying it forward and mentoring others is another way to grow because you don’t just learn from people more experienced than you.

What are you working on now?

It’s an incredibly busy and exciting time for Trustees Unlimited. I’m currently busy preparing for our 10th anniversary celebrations – we are privileged to be joined by Maggie Rae, renowned family lawyer and Chair of Refuge, as a guest speaker at an event to celebrate a decade in business.

I’m also preparing for a keynote speech at the upcoming NCVO annual conference, looking at how we can achieve more diverse charity boards, the role businesses can play in this, what good diversity looks like and why it’s important to governance.

Beyond these major milestones, my commitment and focus is as ever on putting charities in the best possible position to do good work, by connecting them to people with the right skills who can strengthen and diversify their boards.