Spotlight: Armed with expertise and grit, Sarah Becker makes it happen
by Joe Metts
Marketing Associate at Charles Aris Inc.
As an organization that thrives thanks to the strength of its people, Charles Aris Inc. is excited to introduce a Spotlight series to highlight its outstanding team members. In the coming months, we will look into the lives, experiences and expertise of Charles Aris all-stars in an effort to share more about who we are individually and collectively.
Our series begins with Engineering & Operations and Sales & Marketing practice leader Sarah Becker. With a focus on focus on recruiting senior-level executives for clients in the Private Equity and Consumer space, Sarah has quickly established herself as an A-level talent for the Charles Aris team, overseeing one of the organization’s most successful practices.
The St. Louis native relocated with her family to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 2014 following a successful career in furniture. In a sector dominated by male executives, Sarah made her mark by approaching this historic industry with curiosity and patient persistence. She understood that acknowledging and honoring the legacy of the industry, in combination with building strong relationships, helped drive success.
“My passion for the furniture industry developed quickly,” Sarah said. “Many of the people in this industry have ‘grown up’ in furniture and have passed their own passion and knowledge down from generation to generation. Joining them from the outside as I did, there naturally was skepticism about an outsider changing things. I worked hard to take the time to listen and ask the right questions – and gain their respect – before incorporating their thoughts and sharing how they might shift in the marketplace to get beyond the Great Recession and stay ahead.”
The results? Sarah quickly earned the respect of the company’s leadership team and was promoted through six positions across operations, customer service, business integration and sales. With her depth of experience in multiple functions in furniture, Sarah became known as The Fixer. She used her Lean Six Sigma green belt to identify and improve operational inefficiencies across the organization.
When this furniture company was purchased by a private equity firm, she was hand-selected by the CEO to join the organization’s executive team as a vice president. Sarah’s expertise across multiple functions helped her navigate the fast pace and competing priorities inherent in a private equity environment. She now uses this experience to help her private equity clients find the right blend of bias for action and cultural change management for their critical operational positions.
“My time in private equity helps me relate to my clients and my candidates,” Sarah said. “In the world of private equity, you have multiple stakeholders to whom you are accountable. Having walked in the shoes of the individuals I’m placing, I know how to dig deeper to ensure the right technical and cultural match. This results in the best fit for the P.E. firm, its portfolio company and the successful candidate.”
Prior to her work in the furniture industry, Sarah spent three years crafting her skill set at Sara Lee. During Sara Lee’s vetting process, it became clear to several of the company’s hiring authorities that Sarah Becker could and should handle much more than a corporate entry-level job. An initial interview panel quickly realized that it would be well worth asking Sarah to take on some of the organization’s bigger challenges in customer claims.
“They saw something in me,” Sarah noted. “They essentially said: Here’s your whiteboard – go build this department. It was an amazing confidence builder for me. I got to learn how to build something from scratch.”
As a bill-back deductions supervisor tasked with building a team focused on the assessment and analysis of customer deduction claims, Sarah developed and implemented significant changes. Under Sarah’s leadership, her team helped save the company more than $6 million through a series of innovations ranging from product shipment to packaging and improvements in invoice processing. This success underscored her ability to attract and retain great talent and led to an invitation to join Sara Lee’s leadership development team.
“This is where I got my passion for mentorship,” Sarah said. “It’s where I learned the value of mentorship for others – including for me as I worked with my first true mentor, a vice president of finance who greatly influenced my thinking and career development.”
Just as important for the sake of Sarah’s burgeoning career and others around her, she found herself in the right place at the right time with Sara Lee president, chairman and CEO Brenda Barnes, who had previously excelled as president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America.
“I was fortunate enough to work in the Brenda Barnes era,” Sarah said. “As an energetic, driven and personable female CEO, Brenda was acutely focused on women in executive leadership. Working under this iconic leader gave me the chance to develop my own leadership skills. She drove leadership development and process improvement throughout the entire company. If you had an idea, you could email her and she would respond.”
Sarah credits her time with Sara Lee as the span during which she became a leader and solidified her passion for continuous improvement. In a world where the best teams in organizations are constantly looking to improve lives and processes, she says it’s important not to lower your standards.
“Never give in to The No, but listen and learn from it,” Sarah advises. “Revise and approach the situation anew, and you will improve your results.”
Since moving to the Tar Heel state, Sarah has rededicated herself to maintaining a healthy work-life balance comprised of five major concepts: family, career, health, spirituality and education. As a wife and mother of two, she credits her husband as a staple in her success, noting that while this was a family decision, he “never flinched, regardless of the situation, and supported me through many difficult career challenges.”
And the fruit doesn’t fall from the tree. Both of Sarah’s children serve as leaders in their respective activities. Her daughter is in high school and serves as a co-leader of her varsity cheerleading team. She’s also the founder and president of a school organization designed to help integrate new students into its large campus community. Sarah’s son, meanwhile, credits his mother with his understanding of how to lead as the recently elected assistant captain of his A-level travel hockey team, the Charlotte Jr. Checkers.
When she is not supporting others in a hockey arena, Sarah loves to be outdoors. She has dedicated herself to a healthy lifestyle over the previous year, with hiking and kayaking among her favorite activities. A believer in spiritual balance and continuing education in a busy day-to-day life, she can often be found studying leadership concepts in her spare time.
Self-motivation and perseverance continue to carry Sarah far in the professional world. Independent from a young age, she now inspires others with her impactful career path and trajectory.
“The only thing that stops someone in life is believing someone who says you can’t – or telling yourself that you can’t do something,” she said. “Believe in what you do and love what you do. If you are passionate about the things that you are doing in life, then it is no longer work. It is rewarding.”
"Thanks, Charles Aris, appreciate your dedication in finding such great talent for us to select from."
— The VP of Strategic Product Management for a Fortune 30 retailer, responding to an email informing him that Charles Aris Inc.'s candidate had just accepted the retailer's job offer.