Chief Financial Officer, Sabey Corporation & Sabey Data Centers
With more than 35 years of experience in corporate finance, accounting and administrative management, Patty Sewell is the CFO of Sabey. In her current role, Sewell is a multi-functional member of Sabey’s Executive Leadership Team responsible for setting the Company’s financial strategy to support its long-term goals. As an executive leader, Sewell is passionate about developing future leaders and instilling in them the organization’s core values.
Published in Issue 5 | December 2020
You have been at Sabey for almost a quarter of a century joining in 1996 as a Controller. Can you share with us what your journey has been like from Controller to CFO, and what have been your key milestones?
When I joined Sabey as a young accounting professional, I could never have imagined the ensuing journey. Reflecting on that time, I am confident that, had anyone asked me to try to envision it, I may very well have scared myself out of it. I was extraordinarily fortunate to find my professional home with a remarkable family-owned company that, by the time I joined, was already long recognized as one of the premier commercial real estate companies in the Pacific Northwest. It was my first job in real estate and I immediately took to the complexities of the business, eager to learn all that I could.
There were so many milestones as I made the transition to CFO— closing my first financing transaction, speaking at an all-company meeting, helping to craft what still is Sabey’s Core Ideology (Core Values, Core Purpose, etc.) but what stands out most is the investment made in developing relationships and building trust with my team members – without having accomplished that early on, I never could have succeeded at Sabey.
Our founder and now Chairman, Dave Sabey, has always supported me and convinced me that I would thrive in the CFO job. Dave was right - the role is equal parts challenging and exhilarating. Best of all, I am still learning every day and that, together with working alongside an incredible team, is what continues to make it fun and rewarding.
As a female leader and part of the management team, what has been the most significant barrier/ challenges you may have faced in your career progression?
In the early years of my career, I was, of course, aware of often being the only female in the room – it was simply the reality of working in the industry then. It naturally took some time for me to feel less of an outsider but once I made a conscious decision to stop noticing it, my perspective changed and I realized the value of my unique perspective that was, fortunately, respected by my male counterparts. I know how blessed I was to find an early seat at this table and am thrilled about the fact that I am now seldom the only female in the room!
What has been the key to your success, in terms of reaching your level of success, given the sector’s gender gap, especially among leadership?
The datacenter industry was born out of the conversion of information technology and real estate, both maledominated industries, so it makes sense that men are disproportionately present in the industry’s leadership. However, I have never felt that women are not both welcome and supported and as more enter, I think we’ll see the same shift other mature business lines have made.
Who has been the source of inspiration for you in your career?
I am self-motivated and much of my inspiration comes from within. I had a difficult upbringing, so I was forced to constantly look beyond my own circumstances to see what was possible. Early on I developed a keen ability to see strength, wisdom, character and kindness in ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I love the fact that there are now so many successful women in positions of leadership and influence. My two granddaughters (ages 10 and almost two) are growing up in a time when women in positions of leadership is the norm and I am proud to be a role model for them.
My advice is: Get comfortable wit being unconfortable. The path to leadership is filled with moments that take you well beyond your comfort zone.
What are the qualities of a good leader?
As a leader, you never stop developing and I am embracing the role now of being a leader of leaders. I mentor a group of very talented women and men, the future Sabey leaders and, ultimately, my successors. I believe that the world will become increasingly complex and leaders will need to manage through an accelerating pace of change with new levels of strength and confidence, and also with empathy and humility. At Sabey, we are committed to developing great leaders and I am honored to be the Executive Sponsor for Sabey’s Emerging Leaders’ Professional Development Program.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
The best gift that a future female leader can give to herself is to work in a culture aligned with her values. It is both easier and more enjoyable to thrive when you are surrounded by those who share your values. Women aspiring to leadership roles generally have natural leadership qualities, so the key is to be in an environment where those qualities are recognized, valued and cultivated.
My advice is: get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The path to leadership is filled with moments that take you well beyond your comfort zone. How you are in these moments will prepare you for when others look to you for difficult and frequently quick decisions. I remember sitting alone in my office late one evening, anxious over a deal that was just not coming together as I had envisioned it. It had been a long day and I didn’t want to head out until I had a plan, but as hard as I tried the solution was not coming to me. I finally leaned back in my chair and had a brief but powerful conversation with myself. It went something like this: “You have been here before, in fact many times before - stretched outside of your comfort zone and you have always figured it out. This time is no different, you’re uncomfortable and that’s okay—to continue to grow and develop, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and trust that you will find the way.” That little ah-ha moment forever changed me—I still get uncomfortable, but it is now a familiar feeling, and my experience tells me I will prevail.