Making it up as she goes along...
Sara heads Rouse’s operations in the Middle East and Africa, and is co-head of the firm’s global patent/technology practice
Sara describes herself ‘as making it up as she goes along’, a reflection of a somewhat non-linear career in IP. Starting off in patents, finding her way to trade marks, learning how to do an IP due diligence and M&A transaction with Rupert one Christmas, moving into commercial IP, and eventually finding her way back to IP strategy and patents, Sara now says she is a true IP generalist who will tackle almost anything that falls on her desk.
Perhaps being a New Zealander has something to do with her can-do approach to life; the influence of her mother is also important. A well-educated, independent and adventurous woman, she was determined that, at least in those respects, her daughters should follow in her footsteps.
Sara grew up in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, where she attended Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, very early on showing an aptitude for science. It was always a foregone conclusion that she would ultimately go to University and enrol in a professional degree course. When the time came, she chose Veterinary Science, one of the most competitive courses on offer. She got a place and did well in her first year, but wasn’t included in the drastically reduced second year intake, so had to think again. This time she decided to enrol for a Bachelor of Laws (following in her father’s footsteps), and complete her Bachelor of Science course at the same time, specialising in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
When she graduated in 1995, she was the only person in New Zealand graduating with degrees in both Science and the Law that year and it wasn’t long before people began talking to her about the possibility of a career in the world of patents. It was something she hadn’t thought of, but it sounded interesting so she decided to give it a go, accepting a job with a firm of patent attorneys in Auckland. She worked there happily for a couple of years, before deciding it was time to don a backpack and set off to see the world – something, she says, any self-respecting young New Zealander is likely to do; and something her mother’s daughter was almost certainly bound to do.
She didn’t, however, head straight for Europe, but spent time on the way in India and Africa, travelling first with a friend for about three months, mostly by bus and train, through north-west India – Mumbai, Ladakh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra – then flying to Nairobi to spend another three months travelling around various African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. In Africa, they slept in tents for the whole three months and largely hitchhiked from place to place – something that, for two white girls, particularly in South Africa, could probably be described more accurately as ‘dangerous’ than ‘adventurous’. They did encounter the occasional difficulty, but overall Sara says she has had more frightening experiences on the New York subway.
By the end of the three months, funds were running low and Sara went to London to find a job. Her plan was to work there for a couple of years, then make her way back to New Zealand, perhaps finding odd jobs here and there along the way. In all, she would be away from New Zealand for three or four years. Thanks to Rouse, more than twenty years later, she’s still en route.
In February 1998, she arrived in London and was put in touch with Rouse. At that point, having been on the road for months, not reading newspapers and paying scant attention to world affairs, her mind was firmly fixed on getting a job and earning some money. In different circumstances, she might never have accepted the job that Rouse offered her in Jakarta. As it was, she knew nothing about the major political unrest and rioting that was going on in Indonesia at the time: she simply liked what she saw of Rouse, and the job itself sounded as though it would be an adventure. She was a little surprised when, at the end of the interview, Rupert asked if she had any worries about the security situation in Jakarta; however, not wanting to appear uninformed, she replied nonchalantly: ‘Oh no I’m sure it will be a storm in a tea cup’. It was only later, when she had investigated the situation a little further, that she began to wonder what she had let herself in for. But it was only going to be for a couple of years, so she wasn’t overly concerned.
In fact, although they were not without incident, she thoroughly enjoyed her two years in Jakarta, and first practiced in trade marks (having been almost exclusively a patent person until that point). Then an opportunity arose in Rouse’s Shanghai office and she spent the next two years there before moving back to Jakarta for another five years, to manage the Rouse office there. For the last 11 years, she has been managing the practice in the Middle East.
These days she doesn’t have a lot of spare time, but when she does she enjoys travelling, and for that, Dubai, with the third busiest airport in the world, is the perfect base. She even manages to get back to New Zealand two or three times a year, although she is usually working while there. Eventually, she says, she will get back there to live, but that’s still something for the future. For now, she’s happy to be still en route.