A day in the life of Sarah Cox, Head of Marketing at Volkswagen Passenger Cars UK and Inspiring Automotive Women Award Winner 2020

Sarah inspires others around her principally through her outstanding leadership skills and serves as a beacon for diversity and inclusion.

Sarah inspires others around her principally through her outstanding leadership skills and serves as a beacon for diversity and inclusion. She’s a mentor not only to aspiring females in automotive, but to anyone who wants to be successful in their automotive career and offers great support during tough times, whether during the pandemic or when workloads are high. When the pressure is on she protects and shields the team, ensuring they are emotionally and physically well, and ensures they can deliver thr best posssible results without external pressures or distractions. 

We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Sarah, as she gave insight into a typical working day as Head of Marketing for Volkswagen Passenger Cars UK.

“I am the Head of Marketing for Volkswagen Passenger Cars UK. My department comprises 41 people across four sub teams – Communications, Events & Internal Communications, Digital and Product.

Currently I am still working full time from my home in Milton Keynes as we have not yet reopened the office.  Personally I cannot wait to be able to get back to at least three days a week at our headquarters – maybe more – and to also enjoy my short commute across town at the start and end of each day.

I am lucky that I have a dedicated home office so my only distractions tend to come from my partner Chris, popping in to use the printer, or our cat Bailey meowing for attention!  I don’t have children of my own and the step children come over only at weekends, so I have escaped home schooling duties unlike many of my peers, who I admire immensely for surviving this challenge.

My typical day would involve being ready to start work around 8am.  Since working at home I have started eating breakfast regularly, something I hadn’t previously done during my whole career.  I now appreciate that I need to fuel both my brain and my body with a light breakfast, and I tend to use this time to review the previous day’s website statistics.

With the batteries recharged, I then try to have at least 30-60mins at the start of each day to organise my thoughts, prep the days meetings and catch up on any overnight emails.  When in the office I would have the same routine and take myself off to the restaurant, get a Starbucks and plan the day.  It has taken me 12 months of working at home to realise that I really need this space to mentally prepare myself and feel in control of the day ahead.  I still miss that morning dose of Seattle’s finest fuel, but I still protect that valuable time each day for my review.

Most days involve back to back video conferences.  It can feel quite relentless at times and there are times that I feel I am apologising at the start of each meeting for being late due to the previous meeting overrunning!  Not unfamiliar for many I’m sure.  The meeting etiquette and diary disciplines seem to have been eroded during this past 12 months, and again this is something I am trying to restore back to a heathier balance with the help of my administrator Candace.

The meetings will be a mixture of sessions.  I mentor several people within the organisation plus my 30% external mentoree too.  In addition I hold ad hoc sessions with people that ask for career advice or feedback.  So across a week I would probably have a couple of hours of these 1:1 calls.  I love these sessions, as I see them as my chance to give something back.  I enjoy seeing people develop themselves and achieve their goals.

Most days I will also have at least one 1:1 session with one of my direct reporting managers.  Those sessions bring me up to speed on key projects, approve creative, sign off budget and discuss how my manager is doing and get a sense of how their team are doing too.  It is really important to me to know the mood of the whole team – it is so much harder to pick this up while we are all working remotely.

My time is also spent with peers in Management Team meetings led by my boss Andrew.  The Management Team is a close bunch and meetings can cover an array of topics including reviewing the business performance metrics and longer term strategic projects.  Over the course of a month I also have 1:1s with most of my peers such as Head of Sales, Head of Fleet, Head of PR, Head of Planning.  It is vital that we all work seamlessly together, but also that my team see the collaboration between departments and follow our lead with their peers across the business too.

I try my best to protect at least 30 minutes for a lunch break, although I know this really should be longer!  Now the weather is improving I enjoy getting out into my garden and eating a light lunch in the sunshine.  I am a keen gardener and feeling the sun on my face and seeing the developments in the garden distract my mind and give my eyes a rest from the three screens I sit in front of for up to 11 hours a day!

The afternoons will be much of the same: more virtual meetings.  Sometimes these are with our Head Office colleagues in Wolfsburg or cross functional meetings with my peers in the other brands in Volkswagen Group UK.  This is a real strength of the Volkswagen Group, having five brands plus central functions all under the same roof.  It enables us to swap ideas and best practice, and collaborate on shared projects to find synergies.  It also means my interactions are with a more diverse set of people too.

The meetings tend to stop by 5.30-6pm.  I have an unwritten rule to ensure that I leave my home office by 7pm each day, so the last couple of hours are normally catching up with emails from the day.  At least two days a week I have a reminder in my diary to finish by 6pm so I can go out for a run before dinner.  I try to do 5k a couple of nights a week and then go for a longer run at weekends.  I find this helps switch my mind off, burn off some energy and increase my appalling step count for the rest of the week!  I only started running last August, using the ‘Couch to 5K’ app, as a way of losing weight from all the extra snacks I was eating while working at home. I am happy that I have managed to cut out the snacks and keep up the running!

My evenings then involve having dinner with Chris, while catching up on his day as he works for himself and has less interaction with people than I do each day.  And then we indulge in some TV to help us both switch off our minds from work and stop looking at our phones.  While I love a box set, Chris doesn’t, so I have to work hard to find a good one to keep him occupied and to keep the Golf Channel at bay…

Now the world is starting to open up again after the lockdowns, my evenings will hopefully start to include more socialising over dinner and drinks with friends, and then progress to some long weekends away too.  We have a property in Spain and having a mini break in the diary regularly to work towards gives both Chris and I focus on work, in order to balance that with some playtime in the sunshine.

The past 12 months have really made me appreciate the need to ensure that we all look after our own well-being more than ever before.  Taking breaks, having social interactions, planning escapes, finding things to stimulate your mind and body in different ways – these are all vital to staying fit and healthy enough to perform at the level the job demands.”

Sarah also tells us what inspired her to pursue her current role within Volkswagen Passenger Cars. 

“I fell in love with marketing roles almost immediately when I took my first role in Audi local marketing in 2009.  I thrive on the challenge and balance of creativity and driving commercial results.  But the confidence to push myself forward, to step up and take on bigger roles each time comes from the support I have from my partner Chris.  He is always encouraging me and reminding me of my strengths and abilities. I lost my Dad six years ago and he previously was the one that always told me to believe in myself more.  Chris has taken on his role of being that mental champion and this means the world to me.”

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