This past January, Sabre Corporation’s Scott Cockrell found himself laid up in bed—on his birthday. “I was very, very sick. I had to work from home that whole day,” the vice president of tax recalls. “But that morning, I got an email—it was a video of everyone in the department singing ‘Happy Birthday’ around the cake they had bought for me as a surprise. It was so incredible that people went out of their way to do that for me.”
If you asked any member of Cockrell’s thirty-five-person team at Sabre, they would say that that is how Cockrell himself leads and inspires: by going out of his way to serve, support, and develop everyone around him.
A 1991 graduate of Norwich University, Cockrell has spent the past decade serving in leadership roles across technology, healthcare, telecom, and consulting industries. “I never wanted to pigeonhole myself into one particular discipline or functional area,” Cockrell says of his years at leading companies such as Aol and Premier Inc. “I’ve always been one to look for exposure to a lot of different areas of tax, which is something you need as a well-rounded tax professional and leader.
“But really, I think it’s been about challenging myself,” the VP continues. “How can I continue to grow and learn and develop? What is the next step in my career and how can I continue to push myself?”
But when you are constantly challenging yourself to go beyond anything you’ve done before, Cockrell points out, you have to be extremely comfortable with failure. “No one wants to fail but it can be a great learning experience, and you have to be willing to see that experience for what it is,” he says. “You have to be able to take a step back, self-reflect, and closely examine whatever mistake you made and learn from it moving forward.”
“Failure is a fantastic learning experience, but you have to be willing to see that experience for what it is.”
Essentially, Cockrell says, it’s about being comfortable with everything that makes you who you are, whether that’s success or failure. “And in my view, that’s something that a lot of the people in this industry—where there are so many smart and talented people—do struggle with sometimes,” he notes.
And starting a new position—as he did at Sabre just eighteen months ago—is a perfect opportunity to embrace any shortcomings you may have, Cockrell says.
“I have had to accept that I may not know everything that my team knows about the business, which is incredibly complex,” Cockrell says of the global travel technology corporation. “I can’t be afraid to ask the question—why? Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this in this way?
“It’s not only about having the confidence to ask that question but also about not feeling stupid for asking it in the first place,” the VP continues with a chuckle. Fortunately, Cockrell says, his team is composed of incredibly smart and experienced professionals who know what they’re doing and can explain the company’s many complex issues.
“I’ve been doing this for over twenty years, but I have people on my team who have been in the industry for just as long or longer,” Cockrell says. “And they are excellent at what they do. As VP, I really just try to clear the roadblocks for them and put them in a position to be successful.”
When you have a high-performing team, Cockrell explains, “you’ve got to let go of the reins. You’ve got to have trust in your team and confidence that they can make the decisions that need to be made.
“I don’t ever want to become the bottleneck,” he says. “I’m not going to be invited to every meeting, and my team members aren’t going to tell me about every little thing they’re doing because they are competent, qualified, and know what they’re doing. They’re going to come to me when they need to.”
“As a leader, you have a direct impact on people’s lives, not just their careers. You touch people’s lives more than you’ll ever really know.”
And according to Cockrell, the greatest area of “need” at Sabre right now is people development.
“We’re trying to build a sustainable tax organization,” he explains. “We know that people aren’t always going to stay here, but we want them to be leaving for the right opportunities—and not because they couldn’t see a career path here at Sabre. And if people do decide to leave, I want to ensure that we have people ready and able to step up and take on that role.
“But tax is just a microcosm of the broader organization,” Cockrell continues. “As a company, we know that we need to have the right people and right culture in place in order to execute on our strategic imperatives. So throughout the organization, we are continuously reinforcing the importance of leadership skills and development.”
And when the people around you see that you are supporting them, that you know it’s “not about you, but really about them,” you’ll see the success you’ve been searching for, Cockrell asserts.
“As a leader, you have a direct impact on people’s lives, not just their careers,” he says. “You touch people’s lives more than you’ll ever really know, and I’ve come to appreciate that more than I would have ever imagined.”