On the QVT blog today we thought we’d share what our CEO, Ingrid Tennessee, has been up to lately- and it’s rather exciting!

Ingrid is currently  attending a leadership year long course for black female executives – Solaris – which is the first of its kind in the UK. Founded by Yetunde Hofmann , MD of Synchrony Development Consulting and of The Enjoyable Life Series  CIC (an associated company of Solaris), Yetunde has been mentoring Ingrid throughout this course, subsequently recommending her to the Cumberland Lodge Foundation as a Trustee (of which Ingrid is now at the 3rd stage of the process).

Ingrid has been able to attend this inspiring course largely with the help and sponsorship of a lady called Kate Grussing of Sapphire Partners. Sapphire Partners are an established and influential Executive Board and Leadership Search firm. The company has an active Equality and Diversity programme, of which a large focus is propelling more women of colour into leadership roles and attending more prominent conferences and events.

Kate (pictured above with Ingrid) has had a personal mission to bridge the gap between people of standing and traditionally more socioeconomically deprived groups and ethnicities. As a mentor of Ingrid, she invited her to the launch of the Ditchley Foundation’s new peer mentoring programme at The Reform Club in Pall Mall, attended by influential people within a variety of industries, with the programme supporting young, new talent, in particular Masters and PHD students . 

Ingrid said of her course/attending the event:

“This is a targeted leadership programme for the advancement of women of colour. I have the coveted chance of honing and developing skills in an environment which is inspiring, and which challenges me on many levels, both personally and professionally. I am delving into areas such as ethical business practice, organisational culture and stakeholder engagement at depths which resound! I share and learn with other influential leaders and more than ever , am valuing the roles of mentorship and sponsorship as important components of my leadership journey. My aim is to go on to support new and emerging female talent and to give back to my organisation and my community. I intend to share my learning with  others journeying through the realms of leadership in an emerging global landscape which continues to unfold in ways which I could have never expected.”

We spoke to Kate and found out how she came to mentor Ingrid and about her own career path…

Tell us a bit about your background/career so far?

I had a strong corporate chapter in the first 20 years of my career. I worked in investment banking for a decade at two large blue chip firms in New York and London honing my financial skills.  I also worked as a strategy consultant for a decade where I learned more about how organisations actually operate and I grew increasingly interested in organisation culture, high performing teams and what differentiated exceptional organisations from their peers.  For the last 16 years I have been leading an unusual executive search firm called Sapphire Partners which is a leader in promoting diversity in boards and in the executive pipeline.  Sapphire is an SME but we work with some of the world’s biggest companies as well as charities and the UK government. I am originally from the U.S. but have been living and working in the UK for 29 years.

Can you explain a bit more about your role at Sapphire partners? How long have you been there?

Sapphire has been quite an interesting journey from starting with nothing but an idea and a vision for a search consultancy that would challenge the norm.  Our firm is now widely known and well regarded and award winning.  As the founder and Managing Director I oversee all aspects of the firm; marketing, business development, finance, operations, search execution, compliance, technology, strategy and HR for the firm.  I founded the firm and have grown it one consultant at a time.  I’ve taken a slow and steady approach so we could be certain of our excellent candidate, client and employee care. 

How did you end up meeting and mentoring Ingrid?

I met Ingrid in the Spring of 2021 when she was a participant in a new leadership development programme for black women and she was the one participant from a not-for-profit. As a supporter of this pipeline initiative I was behind Sapphire providing a bursary to Ingrid to be able to participate.  The brainchild behind Solaris found Ingrid and introduced me to her. Ingrid has now adopted me as a mentor, which I am honoured to be to such a talented and driven and impactful woman of colour. I am also keen to benefit from reverse mentoring from Ingrid.

What made you become so passionate about promoting diversity in business/the work place?

In my first 20 years of my corporate career, I was always struck by how few women and ethnic minorities were in my peer group of in any rooms I was in. Maybe the fact that I was six foot tall and had red hair and a funny accent with a maiden name no one could pronounce were early sensitizers for me. I have seen first hand the benefits of having a diverse team and want to play my part improving the world of work for my children and colleagues.  When I was a mid-career professional I also had a child born with special needs and it has given me another perspective on neuro diversity and what society can do to embrace all talents. 

What are your goals and aims in the above area for 2022 and beyond? 

I am very excited for the year ahead for Sapphire as well as for me professionally. I am hugely optimistic that organisations truly are committed to embracing more diverse talent and working with firms like Sapphire and less traditional candidates and impactful professionals, women like Ingrid. I have several areas of growth for Sapphire and am also excited to see the first cohort of women graduate from Solaris.  I also am eager to help launch the second cohort of Solaris with a strong group of high potential black women.

Covid has been a challenging time for many of our clients and colleagues, we have had to be nimble and more flexible in the ways we work.  I am optimistic that we will benefit from new ways of working virtually and will do more international work and also be able to bring new hires in to Sapphire to help us extend our reach.

As a small firm, I have great plans for how we will boost our efficiency as well as our productivity but I may keep that close to my chest for now.

I am also keen to watch Ingrid’s development as a leader in the year to come.

We also look forward to hearing more of Ingrid’s progress on this journey soon!

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