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Sara’s newest venture

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Sara’s newest venture

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 Sara Collins has gone through a major life change over the past three years. The Barbadian native has gone from a career in fashion to living and working in Switzerland as the head of sales with a company called Andermatt Swiss Alps.
“I’m head of sales at Andermatt, the largest real estate company in the Swiss Alps. It’s in a lovely little cute village about an hour and a half away from Zurich, which puts you right in the centre of Switzerland,” Sara told EASY magazine while she was on holiday in Barbados.
“It’s been a great experience, especially coming from running my own businesses and now going into a corporation. I am the only woman in higher management, so [I’ve] got to be definitely strong.”
When it comes to new chapters in her life, Sara has always been one to embrace change. She left Barbados a few years ago to pursue her Master’s degree in London, England, and she’s been charting her own course ever since.
I was brought in through the gentleman who is the owner of the company Orascom Development, Samih Sawiris, who is part of the richest family in Egypt,” she said.
“He found me through a joint venture partner and he interviewed me – well, the interview wasn’t even really an interview, it was just a whole bunch of us having dinner. He looked at me and said, ‘I want you on board, I want you to be part of this development’.”
But before she made any decision or took him up on his offer, she checked with herself first.
“I did a funny thing, I flew over and spent two weeks in Andermatt because I needed to see what the place looked like and whether I was going to like it. You know, I’m the type of person [who has] to love what I sell. I’m not the typical salesperson who can sell something even if they don’t like it. I really have to embody what I sell because people trust me.
“I always believe that you will see someone a second time in your life and you want them to [say], ‘Sara, that deal you did with me was fantastic, girl – do you have anything else?’”
For Sara, her work embodies her life and the two have to be in tandem and she needs to feel a sense of peace.
“I spent two weeks in Andermatt; I didn’t tell anybody what I was doing there because I wanted to get a feel for the locals. I wanted to get a feel for the area, and it worked out really well,” she said.
“It’s a small village . . . we’re talking about 1 400 people who live there and everybody knows everybody. It actually reminds me a little bit of home. What’s a little different to here, which is still wonderful, is that it’s so safe, you forget to lock your doors.
“You see young kids walking around without their parents late at night, it’s really almost like a surreal world.”
For Sara, who travels extensively for her job to Europe and the Middle East, that serenity when she returns home is essential to her maintaining a sense of balance. Balance is key, especially when up against perceptions based on gender.
“You get away with a lot of things as a woman but other things, it’s extremely hard, especially because the first thing they look at is [whether] she’s good-looking, she’s blonde, and they’re thinking ‘I wonder how she got there’,” Sara explained.
“Suddenly they realize she actually does have a brain. The good thing is that within the last few years I’ve earned a lot of respect, especially within my company, and I’m grateful for that.
“Don’t forget I had the villa management and villa sales experience on the island. Then there was my love for fashion, which I still have. I still go to all of the Fashion Weeks and I still get asked to do shoots – and when I have time, I still do it,” she said.
“Going down this route, I feel very confident in myself as a businesswoman. I’ve learned a lot working in a huge firm and being under the wing of the owner, and meeting so many different types of people from princes to sheiks. You’re talking to people who are billionaires and you’re on their wavelength and they are listening to your advice. So I have learned so much.”
Sara admits that she is still learning but one thing she plans to do in 2013 is slow down somewhat.
“I go at such a fast pace during the year but at the end of the year I get a chance to reflect on the things I achieved, the things that didn’t work out and how I could make it better,” she said.
“I know that I need to shut off at a certain time. For me, my business goes into my private life, so I need to learn now it’s shutoff time, the BlackBerry is going to be put to one side and I need to make some time for me, which I did not do enough of last year. I just don’t want that to continue. While I don’t regret anything at all, I’ve learned that I need to switch off.”
Call it getting older and wiser, but although she’s carving out her own place in the world, Sara still makes it a point to cling to her Bajan roots.
“Coming back home makes me realize this is where I want to come back to later on. This is where I want to bring up my children because I had such an amazing childhood,” Sara said.
“There’s nothing more wonderful than that Caribbean spirit. I can even tell you how many bets I’ve won, when I ask people to guess where I’m from and they never get it.”