On March 21, Sarah Kennedy Ellis was in NYC as part of the Johnson’s Women in Technology conference, speaking on the ‘Trends and Innovations in the Tech Industry’ panel. As the new vice president of Marketing and Strategy for Sabre Hospitality Solutions,Sarah is a strong leader who truly cares about those she works with and is passionate about the travel industry in every way.
Starting at Sabre in 2007, Sarah has excelled in several different roles, including her most recent position as the director of Sabre Labs, which is focused on expanding Sabre’s innovation ecosystem as well as incubating new products internally based on emerging technology trends.
As a female in the tech industry, Sarah has faced many challenging and rewarding moments. She enjoys being able to support the growth and development of other female leaders in the travel technology industry where women at the executive level are still somewhat in the minority. Having the opportunity to be mentored by current female leaders throughout the company over the last seven years, and today acting as a mentor herself, Sarah feels lucky to have had many talented, yet generous role models to learn from, willing to invest in her growth, and she feels blessed to have the opportunity to do the same for others as she grows in her career.
Recently, female leaders at large technology companies have begun speaking out about the unique challenges they face being a part of that industry. A common struggle shared is how to effectively communicate with others.
Being a strong leader with a sincere passion for the travel industry and the Sabre organization has helped Sarah stand out in her career, and has resulted in opportunities to take on new responsibilities every step of the way even though her communication style often led her to come across as more “aggressive” than “passionate.” Over time, Sarah had to work hard on customizing her communication style based on what resonated well, or not so well, with others she was collaborating or communicating with. She admits it wasn’t easy, and is something she today continues to work on, while balancing the need to be assertive and direct as a leader – every situation and audience is unique.
Sarah is also a self-proclaimed nerd. She is an obsessive researcher, who will admittedly sacrifice sleeping just to stay up-to-date with what is going on in the startup & technology world. Common resources Sarah frequents include various science and technology publications as well as AngelList, an online platform where almost every new startup in any industry can be found, even just a few days old. She believes that startup launch and funding patterns are the underground indicators as to what the next trends or emerging technologies will be that large companies like Sabre should be investing in, which is why she spends so much time researching in that area.
She also pays close attention to where academic researchers, as well as organizations like NASA are investing their time & resource. Most recently, the trends she has been focused on experimenting with at Sabre include location and proximity-based services, social data mining and aerial intelligence.
Prior to joining Sabre full-time in January of 2008, Sarah received her MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas in addition to her BBA from Baylor University. While she was attending graduate school, Sarah had a professor who was incredibly generous with his time and served as a mentor to any student interested. He is ardent about giving back to those who are passionate about becoming strong corporate leaders and has invested his entire life’s work to guiding young professionals to do exactly that. To this day, Sarah still goes back to this professor for guidance on big decisions in her career.
Back in 2007 when Sarah started as a graduate intern at Sabre, Michelle Peluso was the CEO of Travelocity. She is one of the people Sarah has looked to for inspiration over the years due to Michelle’s passionate, strong, but still humble leadership style. One promise Michelle always made to her employees that stuck with Sarah to this day was her commitment to responding to every email she received regardless of who it was from – including the interns – within 24-hours.
She never failed to keep that commitment, even when she had her first child, and it is a constant reminder of how important it is to communicate with and recognize the contribution of your employees at every level. The generosity of Michelle and other mentors in Sarah’s career willing to sit down at a moment’s notice to share their wisdom is something Sarah has always admired and hopes to be able to also do for others – even if only in small part – for many years to come.
Sarah’s Top 10 keys to success for a female in the tech industry:
- Be a passionate lifetime learner and never be afraid to ask questions.
- Find out what you are passionate about and pursue that with reckless abandon.
- Be confident in asserting yourself & voicing your opinion when you believe in something.
- Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it, and do it to the very best of your ability.
- Don’t be afraid to question or challenge the status quo because that’s how progress is made.
- Grow your network inside and outside the company and establish a peer support group.
- Learn to actively listen.
- Take advantage of every opportunity to grow. Jump first & find your parachute on the way down.
- Don’t ever be afraid to lose your job; that sets you free to make tough decisions based on what’s best for the company, not politics or popularity. Being exceptional makes job security irrelevant.
- The best leaders often started their careers learning what not to do from the worst bosses. Consider every day a chance to learn what type of leader you want to become… and be that.