As I see it: Carla Stent

Originally an article in Oct 2015 Edition of Economia Magazine.

Carla Stent is a former COO of the Virgin Group. She is currently a trustee of Christian Aid and sits on a number of other boards


When I was at school I thought I’d like to be a speech therapist or a geologist. I was rubbish at science so they weren’t really an option, but maths came naturally to me. My father was a businessman and I was always fascinated by his work: his sales numbers and his targets, and how he struck commercial deals.


I spent the last part of my executive career working for the Virgin Group. My life was so eclectic and varied, one minute talking about gyms and the next about going into space. I thought I’d struggle to get that variety in another executive role so I’ve tried to recreate it in my own portfolio, which I divide into three areas: investments, consultancy, and non-executive positions.


I’m on the board of Christian Aid. It’s a huge business, it raises and spends £100m a year in some of the most challenging areas of the world. Charities are increasingly running as businesses. People want to make sure their money is having a real impact. I’m also on the board of a small charity called the Young Women’s Trust and a community regeneration charity called Power to Change.


Business still isn’t the easiest space for women to operate. Businesses have a lot of women coming through the early stages of their careers, but it’s at executive or management level that you lose a lot of them. Being able to succeed is about confidence and resilience.


As operations director at Thomas Cook I was involved in the sale of the business. I had never done anything of that size or on such a global scale but I was given the opportunity. I knew nothing about travel and very little about the Travellers Cheque business, but we successfully sold the businesses in record time. That was a watershed in my career and allowed me to think more strategically. Working for Richard Branson was both a pleasure and a challenge – nothing is ever impossible with him.

I’m working just as hard as I was when I was CFO at Barclays. I don’t mind doing it when I love what I’m doing and I feel I am really adding value.

When I qualified in South Africa there were only two women in the articled clerk pool, the only other women in the business were the bookkeepers and PAs.

Nelson Mandela was a fantastic post-apartheid leader. He was strong without trying to be tough. I think there’s a big lesson business can learn from that.

You can find more information about Christian Aid and the In Their Lifetime appeal here

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