Ask me anything: Sara Fry – ‘There are always opportunities to develop simple solutions for complex problems’

Sara Fry is the head of sustainability and of safety, health, environment at multinational engineering solutions company, Atlas Copco’s Vacuum Technique business area, which is located in Burgess Hill, West Sussex in the UK. The Swedish firm has set science-based targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that are in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.


Sara Fry, Atlas Copco
The main skills I use every day are around visible leadership of our safety and environmental programmes. (Courtesy: Atlas Copco)

What skills do you use every day in your job?

That’s a tricky one as there are so many! The physics-related skills I use are analysing our safety and environmental statistics, and carbon accounting following the detailed guidance from the international Science-based Targets Initiative and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. But the main skills I use every day are around visible leadership of our safety and environmental programmes, through both internal and external communications. Internally, I collaborate with my direct team, our senior managers and with all our employees; while externally I communicate with customers, trade associations and suppliers. Time management, delegation and prioritization are also key; as is people management of my direct reports in the central sustainability team.

I enjoy that I am constantly learning, as new topics are always coming to the fore in the sustainability landscape

What do you like best and least about your job?

Leading the safety and environmental programme of a major company comes with a great sense of purpose, and my job is to make Atlas Copco Vacuum Technique a better place for our employees and customers. I love the variety of my role – the mixture of different topics, planned and unplanned tasks, as well as leading a fantastic central sustainability team and interacting with colleagues from around the world. 

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I enjoy that I am constantly learning, as new topics are always coming to the fore in the sustainability landscape, and there are always opportunities to develop simple solutions for complex problems. 

Now that international travel is possible once more, it’s also a privilege to be able to visit our locations around the world, to get to know our teams there, and to understand a little of the culture of the many countries where we have operations. The challenge can be that it’s all too easy to have my diary filled with too many back-to-back meetings, so I need to make sure to delegate where possible.

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What do you know today, that you wish you knew when you were starting out in your career?

What I wish I knew when I started out in my career is that it’s not enough to be a subject-matter expert. Leadership and people management skills are also essential, as are public speaking and communications skills. I’ve had the opportunity to learn on the job and through great training courses in people management and leadership throughout my career but, looking back, I should definitely have started earlier and joined the university debating society!

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