Sandra Phillips is CEO and founder of Vancouver-based movmi Shared Transportation Services, which has launched shared-mobility systems, including car-sharing and bike-sharing services, in more than 10 cities around the world. Before starting her company in 2014, Ms. Phillips held senior management and executive roles with BMW and car2go. She is a certified project management professional, holds a Master of Arts from the University of Zurich and a business administration diploma from KV Lenzburg-Reinach.
I was born and raised in Switzerland, outside of Zurich. I'm the oldest of three kids. I financed my way through university by working for a recruiting company and then eventually teaching at a university. Earlier in my life, I worked as a nanny and a tutor.
I moved to Vancouver in 2008 and, while waiting for my permanent residency, I started volunteering and helped my friend who had a Land Rover shop set up his business process. I also finished my project management certificate and started to think about how to use my skills.
In 2010, I got a job working for car2go, helping them set up their car-sharing service. I was initially hired as a project co-ordinator. When they decided to launch in Canada, I became the person in charge of the launch and setting up teams.
I was often alone at work. I reported to the chief operating officer in Austin, Texas, and most of the time was on my own here in Vancouver. It changed something in how I trusted my own judgment. It changed how I work. I couldn't always rely on someone else to help me out. It was also when I realized I loved creating a team and a business and that I loved the industry I was in.
I started movmi in May, 2014, to help organizations launch or create the next generation of transportation. I'm a shared-mobility architect. Instead of building houses, we build transportation networks. If we want to have livable cities, we have to figure out another way of moving people around. When public transit isn't there, you need an alternative system that's not your own car.
I have been inspired by a few different people in my career to date. One was while I was working as a nanny in my teens back in Switzerland. The mother worked as a psychologist in a prison working with male youth. She had a lot of grit and tenacity but in a positive way. She believed that people can change. You can't give up on them.
I was also inspired by the woman who led the recruiting agency I worked for during my studies. She was a very bubbly person and a very democratic leader. She was very transparent and honest. I try to be the same with my team. It's not always easy. There's a fine line between sharing and over-sharing. I felt she instilled trust in us. She included us. Even though the decisions were sometimes different [than what we suggested], you felt your voice was heard. I trusted her to make the right call for the team.
At car2go I learned a lot about empowerment. Because I was often alone on the job, I had to make decisions I had never made before in my life. I reported to the chief operating officer in North America. Thanks to him I actually trust myself. Sometimes you don't know if a decision is right, but you do your best in that moment. You don't always have to act when someone asks for help. Sometimes you just need to listen and let them figure it out for themselves.
As a leader, I think people would describe me as democratic, transparent and straightforward. They would probably also say that I trust a lot. I do my part and I trust that my team does their work. I hate when I have to nag. I'm not very good at that.
I have also been told I have a very empowering leadership style. Most of the people I work with who have moved on have moved up in their organizations.
The best advice I ever received was to look at [challenges] from a different angle. Things aren't always the way they seem and there's always another angle to tackle it from. When I face a challenge, I always try to figure out if I missed a piece. I also do a lot of yoga. It helps me not to react too quickly.
The worst advice I've ever received is when I started movmi. I was told that it couldn't be done. It was from someone I respected. I thought maybe it was a stupid idea. It actually delayed the start of my business by about six months. I almost gave up. I just decided that maybe that person is looking at it the wrong way. I decided that if I don't try it, I would regret it. I'm so glad I did.
This interview has been edited and condensed.