Sally Napper

As Head of Security Assistance for International SOS and Control Risks, Sally Napper is responsible for driving and continually enhancing the delivery of market-leading security advice and assistance in support of our customers’ business travel and operations.

Sally also plays a key role in managing security crises globally.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

As the global Head of Security Assistance at International SOS and Control Risks I oversee a team of security experts who work 24/7 with our 26 Assistance Centres and network of providers all over the world to provide security advice and assistance in support of our clients’ mobile workforce and overseas operations. On any given day you will find us supporting our clients in many different ways from advising travellers on specific risks they may face in a new environment to helping managers respond to security-related crises.

Before joining International SOS, I worked for the Australian government for more than 10 years.  I spent most of that time working in a civilian operational support role for the Australian military, including on deployment to Iraq and during military exercises in the Pacific. My background is in international relations, a degree choice that stemmed from my desire to travel for work. I think I can confidently say that I got what I wanted, and perhaps a little more.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest, no, I have never actively planned my career. Instead I took every opportunity as it came along and then worked really hard to try and succeed in every single one. Fortunately for me this approach has led to an incredibly interesting and diverse career so far. I’m lucky to have had some incredible opportunities to grow my career, including my deployment to Iraq; the honour of representing my country at the Australian embassy in Washington DC; and the chance to join the incredible team at International SOS and Control Risks.

Being open to these chances – each varied and equally exciting – has led me to where I am today. I always recommend leaping at any opportunity that comes your way and then working really hard to make the most of every chance to grow. Even if it doesn’t work out, there will always be something you can learn about a job or about yourself. Plenty of new opportunities will lie around the corner if you work hard.

You were deployed to Baghdad for 6 months – how did this come about? What did you learn from this experience?

Quite early in my career my boss at the time walked past my desk one day and asked if I wanted to go to Baghdad. Looking back I probably wasn’t the exact fit for the role. They wanted someone with more experience and a military background but I had proven willing to work hard. I was invested in supporting the military so they took a risk. Fortunately it worked out and became one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my career. It certainly set me up for my role today, which involves helping our clients tackle similarly challenging work environments.

Working in a male dominated sector, like security, I’ve had to learn how make myself heard. Something that can be especially challenging when you’re one of the only women in the room. Those who work with me will know that I’m generally not the first to speak. I often find my skill lies in taking the time to listen and choosing the best moment to share my opinion in a clear and considered way. I’m unsure how much of this approach is because I’m a woman and how much is because I’m an introvert, but, in a world where people can be highly opinionated and loud, the quiet voices can be very powerful. Sometimes as a woman it takes a little longer to be taken seriously but if you’re good at what you do, it won’t take long to have a voice.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am currently working on completing my MBA. Combined with my unusual, and at times crazy, work schedule (I take an average of 1-2 long haul flights a month), this can prove a bit challenging. I remember once being in Papua New Guinea, standing on top of a Jeep to try and get enough signal to send an assignment back to my university in Australia! I love a challenge and certainly got one when I decided to work towards my MBA.

What would you say is your coping mechanism?

A good work life balance is a challenge for anyone, me included! Fortunately I love my job, which makes it much easier to sustain the high tempo. I have great empathy for working parents. I don’t have children myself and can’t imagine juggling deadlines and family commitments. I try to be supportive of my colleagues in more challenging situations than me. I am fortunate to have an amazing husband, and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without his support. I really appreciate the fact that he’s often willing to accompany me on a business trip at a moment’s notice. While this might sound glamorous, and I never thought I would say this, but travel can get tiring at times.

I am also a certified yoga instructor, and try to do at least 10-15 minutes of yoga or other form of exercise per day no matter where I am. It helps me to clear my head and let my creativity flow. I don’t know many people in the security industry or in International SOS who don’t exercise on a really regular basis – it’s such a good stress relief.

What advice do you have for women who would like to follow a similar path to you?

My advice to women is to be yourself. There can be a lot of pressure on women to behave like men, particularly in business, or to behave like other women who have gone before them (to wear certain clothes, take certain roles etc). While I appreciate the amazing efforts of women who have paved the way for female careers in security, I never listened when anyone said there was only one path. I’ve been myself and I’ve worked really hard at every opportunity I‘ve been given. From my experience I can guarantee that if you work hard you will ultimately be recognised, and if you do it with integrity, the success will be even sweeter.