A former senior British government official with more than 20 years of experience in national security and intelligence matters in the U.K. and overseas, Sarah Keeling joined StoneTurn this past fall. Based in London, Sarah assists companies, family offices and their counsel on operational, reputational and investment risk matters worldwide. She is also a vocal advocate for professional women at all stages of their careers. Sarah volunteers as a leadership coach and mentor to rising female executives in both the private and public sector and is a regular speaker on the topic of leadership. 

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Q. While you work with companies across a multitude of industry sectors, you’ve carved out a specialty in advising private equity and investment clients, including asset managers and family offices. Is it commonplace to have dealmakers leverage your team’s investigative capabilities as they assess investment opportunities?  

A. Our investigations team is deployed across the entire deal cycle, from pre-deal due diligence of acquisition or investment targets — including forensically examining the financials for evidence of ‘flattering’ the figures or projected profitability — to supporting the pre-deal team to elicit critical information which may impact the SPA and exit strategy.  Our teams may also be involved in regional, regulatory and sectoral analysis pre-acquisition to check for other liabilities and vulnerabilities of the deal which is not evident from the financials.  Post-deal, we are asked to perform due diligence on C Suite hires for portfolio companies, conduct historical due diligence of third-party suppliers and JV partners, as well as conduct compliance, sanctions and corporate governance reviews of the acquired entity or investment.  

Q. What are some of the hot button issues that are likely to keep your investment clients up at night right now?

A. Setting aside the increased risks of fraud and economic crime directly related to the pandemic, our clients are considering their strategy in an era of increased domestic and international divisions with the added risk of economic slowdown. Some international institutions (UN, WHO, NATO) which historically would have had global authority and credibility are increasingly being questioned and losing authority. The result is potentially an increase in economic (and possibly military) confrontations and domestic political polarization. The fragility of many international relationships (China/Russia/US/Iran) may lead to increased risk for supply chains worldwide as businesses work to navigate new global shipping challenges. The continuing rise in cyber-attacks targeting operations and infrastructure and data/money theft also remains a great threat. Finally, environmental risks are causing concerns for multinational organizations, especially the risk of extreme heatwaves and destruction of natural ecosystems.

Q. Understanding most of the matters you worked on during your earlier tenure as a government official are likely confidential and classified, are there any interesting anecdotes you can share?

A. Unfortunately not. I am bound by the Official Secrets Act.

My experience of leading investigations teams in the public and private sector has given me unique insight into the best and most effective methodology and strategies for identifying, investigating and managing both national security and cross-border financial crime/FCPA matters. This perspective is extremely helpful in our work assisting businesses, legal teams and high net worth individuals with their risk strategies and enhanced due diligence to mitigate financial and operational risk.

Q. You have a well-rounded background having served as both a government insider and senior-level adviser to companies operating in high-risk markets around the world. What attracted you to join StoneTurn? 

I was struck throughout the hiring process by the quality of the people with whom I met and the collaborative and supportive culture. I particularly liked the way the firm interacts at all levels as seen at our bi-annual summits. Now that I am part of the team, I find that clients resonate with this unique, “one firm” approach to solving complex business challenges. StoneTurn’s responsive, nimble and creative approach to client management and growth trajectory was also attractive. I have also met a lot of colleagues who have my sense of humor!

Q. In addition to your time spent on complex client matters, you volunteer as a leadership coach and pride yourself on being an advocate for professional women at all stages of their careers. What advice do you offer the future leaders of your industry?

A. There are a few principles that have guided my career which I often share with other professionals:

  • Always develop and refresh your network. The relationships you build are proprietary and will be invaluable to you as potential clients, friends, sources, hires, at every stage of your career.
  • You are a role model for your teams. Be generous with your time, support and mentor people to develop their skills and enhance their performance. High performing successful teams need to be nurtured and motivated.  Building strong teams relies on careful consideration of cultural fit, team dynamics and a collaborative mindset. Be a good listener and pick up early any issues. Be firm but fair and demonstrate integrity.
  • Be authentic but self-aware. A strong female leader has confidence rooted in a clear understanding of who she is. Be persistent and resilient to setbacks; when you understand that adversity gives you the opportunity to learn and develop, you are better prepared for the next opportunity.

Successful leaders are always in learning mode and play to their own strengths. They also consistently give credit to others. Be a little risky, take a leap of faith and always have a go!

About the Authors

Sarah Keeling

Sarah Keeling

A former senior British government official with more than 20 years of experience in national security and intelligence matters in the U.K. and overseas, Sarah assists companies, family offices and […]

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