Suki Sandhu

Suki Sandhu, 36 is CEO & Founder of OUTstanding, Audeliss and UPstanding. He lives in Barbican, London with his husband Manuel.

Tell us about your job

As a gay, Asian, working class boy from Derby; championing diversity is at the heart of everything that I do. I have three main roles, which are definitely representative of the different intersections in my life. Nearly six years ago, I launched Audeliss, a boutique executive search firm specialising in diverse talent, with a focus on BAME, female and LGBT+ leaders. After recognising the lack of LGBT+ talent at executive level within big companies, and the array of worrying statistics about LGBT+ employees, I realised that there was definitely a gap in the market, so two years later I went on to set up OUTstanding. We’re a professional membership network that helps companies develop their LGBT+ inclusion in order to recruit, retain and develop a diverse workforce. We also publish Power Lists annually, in partnership with the Financial Times, to celebrate LGBT+ and Ally business leaders. UPstanding is the newest addition to my portfolio – it’s an initiative celebrating BAME talent in business, and publishing a list annually of the most influential BAME leaders. So as you can imagine, managing two companies and a big initiative like that is pretty busy, and very varied.

Career history

After studying economics at the University of Birmingham, I entered the world of recruitment, working for Michael Page International. I had a knack for developing and maintaining relationships – something I’ve kept to this day – and it really made a difference. I quickly became the top biller out of thousands of consultants worldwide, which gave me not only the confidence to come out at work, but also the confidence to follow my own dream. I had great experience at Michael Page but I knew deep down I wanted to work on more senior hires, which is what led me to take the plunge and start my own boutique executive search firm. And that’s when Audeliss was born.

How do you spend a typical day?

I try to start each day with a workout – I’m addicted to Psycle – and then after that it varies from day to day meaning it could be Body Pump, Boot Camp or Reformer Pilates. I try to be in the office on Mondays and Fridays as it’s important for me to spend time with my teams at both Audeliss and OUTstanding, and have 1-2-1s with my direct reports. Tuesday to Thursday I’m usually out and about at lots of meetings, either discussing ideas and collaboration opportunities with existing OUTstanding members, or meeting with companies to discuss new membership opportunities, or potential recruitment briefs for Audeliss. In the evenings I’m often at networking dinners or events – but if not, I love a nice meal out with my husband, or a night in catching up on the latest TV series we’re obsessed about.

My most memorable work moment…

Was when we launched the OUTstanding and Financial Times Leading LGBT+ Executive lists in 2013. To get business people of that calibre celebrating and supporting OUTstanding was truly incredible. It really cemented my decision to keep doing what I’m doing, and I have to say that, since then, we’ve gone from strength to strength!

The best part of my job

The people I meet. Some of the business leaders I meet on a daily basis are truly inspirational role models. Hearing the stories of the challenges they’ve overcome, or the success they’ve achieved is mind-blowing stuff. I also have an incredible team who are constantly pushing for us to do the best possible work, and are a lovely bunch, too.

The worst part of my job…

When it doesn’t work out with a member of the team. The hardest decision professionally is when you can see the potential in someone but they don’t have the right drive or attitude so you have to let them go. It breaks my heart, but you have to let them carve their own path and make their own mistakes.

If you could do it all again what would you do differently?

I’m not sure I’d do anything differently. Sometimes I look back and think maybe I should have quit university when I wasn’t enjoying it that much, or come out sooner at work. But then I realise that all the experiences I’ve had are what’s made me who I am today. I’m proud of the success I’ve achieved, and proud of the change I’m driving for LGBT+ and BAME individuals around the world in the boardroom.

What are your ambitions for 2017?

Where to start! Professionally we have exciting plans in the pipeline at OUTstanding – expanding our membership offering so we not only support the LGBT+ community, but also BAME and female business leaders. It’s in its infancy, but it’s very exciting and will make us the first organisation of its type.
Personally, my ambitions are simple: be happy, be healthy and spend more time with the people who mean a lot to me.

Either/Or…and please explain why!

  • Coffee or tea? Tea – because what Brit doesn’t love a cup of tea?!?
  • Jam or marmalade? Jam<– ideally apricot. Marmalade sounds nicer than it actually tastes.
  • Madonna or Britney? Madonna 100%. She’s an icon who has truly helped the LGBT community across her entire career.
  • Mac or PC? PC – I do love Macs but I’m totally a Windows person. I don’t have a clue how to work a Mac although I do have an iPhone and iPad.
  • The Guardian or The Times? I should say the Guardian but I love the Sunday Times and only then it’s the style and business section I read. #sorrynotsorry
  • BBC or ITV? BBC – its responsibility to bring creative content to the UK is huge and I genuinely think it delivers that.
  • M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose because it’s local for us.
  • Morning or night? I’m a night owl so definitely night.
  • Adidas or Nike? Nike because they were cheaper in the shop.
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury – sugar is evil.

Favourites…and please explain why!

  • App: Instagram – it’s where all the cool kids hang out. I do find thinking up new visual content a little stressful though.
  • TV show: At the moment, it’s Westworld on Sky Atlantic. I adore Anthony Hopkins and Thandie Newton.
  • Band: Clean Bandit – I don’t think there are any of their songs I don’t like.
  • Song: Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake. My husband and I did our wedding dance to it last year.
  • Book: All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr. It is a stunningly written and deeply moving read. I loved it.
  • Sports team: not a sports person at all but anything where the guys are wearing tight shorts and t-shirts works for me.
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: for me, I’m always open to Big Night Friday so that I have two days to recover from my hangover before we get to Monday morning. I would typically have drinks in Soho and dinner and then head somewhere for dancing like Freedom bar or Heaven.
  • Place to eat: Granger & Co in Clerkenwell. The food and service is fantastic. I go about five times a week.
  • Holiday spot: Hawaii. I went for my honeymoon this year and its beautiful.
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: “Don’t run before you can walk” – we’ve grown slowly in all my businesses but we’ve grown professionally and with a great reputation.