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In conversation with women leaders - Clare Swindell

Oaklin is conducting a series of interviews with inspirational businesswomen, exploring their journey to date and providing advice for others aspiring to follow in their footsteps. The aim of this series is to highlight the successes and challenges of being a woman in business so that other women can learn from these experiences. As we continue this series, we will also explore topics that greatly impact working women including how to seize potential and understand strengths.

Clare Swindell

My name’s Clare Swindell and I’m the Co-CEO of National Lottery operator, Camelot. I live in North London, am married, and have two children. The National Lottery is widely known for making millionaires, of course. But its primary aim is to raise money for Good Causes. To date, National Lottery players have raised £47 billion for Good Causes – and things like the Olympics and Paralympics are synonymous with National Lottery funding because of the support that this funding provides to UK athletes and para-athletes. However, National Lottery funding also goes to important arts, heritage and community projects – and I have a particular passion for the community projects and the fantastic work they do.

Tell us about your journey so far and what led you to this role today.

I started off my career training as a chartered accountant and then moved to Tesco. I grew with Tesco as the business grew – internationally, online with and then acquiring Tesco Bank.

I became the CFO for when it was a ‘start-up’ and then moved to the US where I had the chance to build the same model in partnership with Safeway. When I came back to the UK, I bridged across to the commercial buying team where I gained more operational experience. Following my maternity leave after having my first child, I was promoted to the role of Group Audit Director. It’s quite unusual to come back from maternity leave and be promoted, so I was quite nervous as I now had a baby, and Audit was a new area for me. I knew I wanted to be a CFO and this was such a great opportunity, so I was determined to make it work. In fact, this role was great for a young family because it was much easier to plan ahead – I was able to plan my work and plan my trips to visit my teams in Europe and Asia around my family.

I then had the opportunity to become CFO at dunnhumby, a subsidiary of Tesco. This was great because it’s quite a different business to the core Tesco retail business – both culturally and structurally – which enabled me to really show my adaptability and flexibility.

The opportunity to be the CFO at Camelot then came about, which brought together my experience in retail, digital, data, risk and control. More recently, with the acquisition of Camelot by Allwyn (operator for the next licence for The National Lottery), I've had the chance to step up to be the Co-CEO with my colleague, Neil.

What has been your biggest achievement and your biggest lesson?

One of my biggest achievements was becoming CFO for, because I was the youngest director in the business at that time. It was a real validation of everything that I had done up until that point and a great opportunity to build something exciting.

Another key achievement has been joining Camelot and being part of the team that has delivered record results over the past few years. When I joined the business, sales had gone into a bit of a decline, so it was a turnaround situation. Myself, Nigel (the CEO at the time), and others on the Executive team did a deep-dive strategic review of the business to understand what was going wrong, and then figured out the right strategies to turn all that around. We developed an end-to-end strategy and plan, and managed to significantly improve performance. Over the past three years, we've seen record growth both in sales and in the amount that we generate for Good Causes – achieving some of the highest figures recorded in The National Lottery’s 28-year history.

The final key achievement I would like to mention is having a family alongside progressing my career. It’s an achievement because it can be very challenging!

In terms of lessons, firstly, seize the opportunities when they come. They might not always be at the right time, and you might not think you're going be successful. So, it can be helpful to write the pros and cons to analyse each opportunity properly, and then shape your approach so that you can make it work for you.

Secondly, linked to the above, is to be prepared to take some risks. Not everything is going to be straightforward. If you can focus on bringing clarity to the specific situation and then setting out the steps to deliver the vision that you have for that role, I’ve found that helps.

The third lesson is to stick to your principles and your gut instinct. There's always something that tells you what's right and what's wrong. That can be a brilliant guiding light. It can also hold you back if you do it too much, so always try to put your energy into the things that really matter, so you'll get a much better balance.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't worry so much about what other people think. I still worry about that, but less so than I used to when I was younger. It requires a lot of energy, and it pushes you away from getting on and doing the things that really matter.

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and if so, how did you overcome it?

Yes, many times. I was actually reading an article about a KPMG survey that they published last year that said that 75% of successful women have suffered from imposter syndrome. I'm sure a lot of men do as well, though I'm not sure the number would be as high as 75%. It's very common among other female leaders that I have talked to over the years and to a lot of women that work for me. I tried to help them through some of the challenges that they face around self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

In terms of how to overcome it, I think the culture of the organisation you work for is really important.

At Camelot, we’ve worked really hard to nurture a culture where people can be themselves.

Another way to address imposter syndrome is through coaching and mentoring. It's helped me think through specific situations and helped me develop a toolkit for how to overcome feelings of self-doubt. It’s always been a great support to have trusted advisors that I can go to and be open and honest with.

Lastly, celebrate your success. Remind yourself how good you are and all the great things that you've done and that you do deserve to be where you are.

Outside of work, what are your interests and passions? How do you balance this with your work and family commitments?

As a family, we love being by the sea. We spend quite a bit of time down in Cornwall. We do a lot of surfing, swimming and paddleboarding. It's just a great way to unwind.

In the last couple of years, I have also developed a real passion for bird watching, which my daughter also loves doing. She's a keen birdwatcher and she's got me really interested. I'd never have imagined that I'd be pottering around in fields and walking along riverbanks, looking through my binoculars at all these wonderful birds. I find it incredibly relaxing, and it's a great opportunity to spend time with my daughter. I'm also keen on yoga, which is fantastic as it is time that I have purely to myself.

It’s hard to juggle everything, and I think that in the past I definitely had moments where I put work first too much. I am trying harder now to balance my time, spending more time with my kids. They're teenagers now, they need different things from me and more quality time together.

What advice would you give to women looking to take the next step into leadership?

First, believe in yourself and your potential. I know it is much easier said than done, but I believe it’s important to celebrate your successes and remind yourself of those if you have a wobble. I have kept every positive email that anyone has ever sent me. When I am having a bad day, I can go to that folder and read those emails and it makes a difference.

Second, build a strong network of advocates, supporters and advisers – people you trust and can rely on when you are unsure in your career.

Third, don’t be scared to fail. Sometimes you learn your best lessons from messing up. If you're too risk averse, you'll find other people are going to fly past you, so you need to seize the opportunities when they come.

Lastly, try to maintain a good work/life balance. I know that's hard, particularly for women with young families. Delegate well – you know you're the best leader if you're delivering through your team and giving them opportunities to develop. This, in turn, helps you grow and pick up new skills and experiences.