Updated: Feb 4, 2020
As ever it was a pleasure to meet Emma who has only recently headed back to Hurtwood in her capacity as trustee of local charity ‘The Brigitte Trust’. Impressed with both Emma and her persuasive argument, the school readily committed the funds generated by next year’s ‘Big Walk’ to this grounded and invaluable cause, providing emotional and practical support for Surrey residents facing life-threating illness. It was therefore a particular delight to catch up with Emma’s fascinating career trajectory since leaving us in 2000. As founder and Managing Director of ‘Thorp Associates’, she has carved out an interesting niche in the complex world of Executive Search, specializing in the working world of health. Time to catch up with Emma!
Even over the phone, it is impossible not to pick up on the bouncy good-humour and enthusiasm which is clearly Emma’s trademark. Her obvious emotional investment in ‘The Brigitte Trust’ and her belief in ‘the help they give that people don’t even know they need’ when illness strikes, is immediately apparent, and prepares me for the committed and professional young women who is very much enjoying her chosen career path.
With A levels in Theatre, Business and Sociology, profoundly dyslexic and without either the desire to head into further academic education, or the financial wherewithal to pursue her assumed career path into drama school (her dad was a successful actor), she moved purposefully into the working world. It was, she tells me, ‘not a glamorous story’. Working with horses, book-keeping, tele-sales and PR work featured, but not with any great success. At one point she ‘got fired for spelling mistakes,’ she happily admits. ‘I have never been academically gifted.’ What is emerging, however, is that a kind of buoyant self-belief kept her going until she ‘found (her) feet.’
The desire to perform had brought her to Hurtwood; what she found here however, was a sense of her other talents as well as the acknowledgement that she had very different, but viable, learning styles. She graciously acknowledges that the school was ‘way ahead of the curve’ in this understanding about the complex variations in the ways in which we learn. Having gained broad experience in the working world, she moved finally into recruitment and over the next 6 years earned her spurs in that highly competitive and challenging arena. With the financial crash of 2008/9 she found herself consolidating her skills in the pharmaceutical area of recruitment, with an increasing sense of her own potential, and at the time working for the market leader in that particular field, she asked herself: ‘Why am I doing this for someone else?’
The outcome was the formation of Emma Thorp Associates, a stand-alone business, but with the rather flattering addition of working in an advisory and financial role in partnership with her previous employers, who clearly rate her extremely highly. Three years on she is clearly thriving and indeed about to scale up the project. I ask her what she considers to be the key skills in recruitment, particularly as it has such impressive career and financial potential. ‘A natural interest in human beings,’ she responds immediately, ‘in what makes people tick.’ She lists business ‘nous’, the ability to work with a team and of course, a sense of leadership. What she most particularly values is the fact that her role now brings together a unique way of aligning human understanding with corporate focus. ‘It is a corporate role, but one in tune with human understanding,’ she explains. All those acting skills combined with her sociological understanding, topped off with her Business Studies acumen, I think, and here she is with a company that specializes in executive search within a booming area of business, with money in the bank and big plans for the future. Bring it on!
So – Hurtwood memories? Being pushed into the pond, endlessly – not the pretty one down by Radnor, but the covered ones on the fountain lawn by the Marley classrooms. Those who know will remember that there are ponds of a rather dubious nature that could tell many a tale. Being impressed and irritated by Emily Blunt’s amazing talent (‘proper stuff,’ Emma calls it), and generally having an amazing three years with us, as she did her GCSEs before A levels. ‘Hurtwood enabled me to get the results I did,’ she acknowledges with candor, and it is clear to me that she has always had a sharp eye on the state of play. Her advice to others? ‘Don’t ever pick a job because you think it is what you SHOULD do… don’t assume that it will work.’ Rather, she suggests, think through the implications of what a job will involve day to day; what it involves and how this relates to what you are good at. ‘Play to your strengths,’ she asserts, something she has clearly done herself, and of course I find myself realizing that she is very much speaking from a position of authority, in the same way that she harnesses within her own company. In terms of ‘a career’, she is clear: ‘get on with it. Make sure that any study that you choose is relevant to the career area. But just get on with it.’ Good stuff, Emma.
So, time now to get back to both our working worlds. What is she most proud to have achieved? With a short pause to align her thoughts, she is confident: ‘I am proud to work with people who are very much at the top of their field and who now turn to me for advice.’ Not bad for a girl who couldn’t spell and was on the wrong end of an employer’s hit list more than once. She found her career feet through hard work, commitment and a canny eye to her own strengths. Well done, Emma! It was great to catch up. You’re doing Hurtwood proud, and we will walk as hard as we can for your charity come June 2020 and the ‘Big Walk’. We promise.