Being right isn’t the same as getting it right. I’d still call myself a pretty outspoken person, but I’ve learnt that being right doesn’t mean that I’ve acted in the right way every time. In fact, sometimes being right in a debate is the very last thing of importance.
As part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Perkins.
Emily is the Chief Brand Officer at Epro and bestselling author. A storyteller almost from birth, Emily has worked with some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Samsung, Beats, B&O Play, and many more. She leads Marketing and Branding at Epro, a clinically-led digital solution for healthcare professionals and organisations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Atmy wedding, my father stood up and read one of my earliest school reports — I was probably about 6 years old when it had been written. Within was an emerging picture of someone that many of my friends and family recognize now: a chatterbox a little too interested in everything for her own good. But the main thread of the report was storytelling. Emily loved stories: writing them, reading them, telling them — even telling her teacher she wanted to be an author.
By age 8, I was apparently making books out of paper at home and proudly presenting them to my mother. When I had three months gap between the end of exams and graduating, I wrote my first historical romance novel, applauded by Medievalists.net for its accuracy. Studying History and English at the University of York, and then completing a Masters in Medieval Studies, helped.
I’ve lived by my pen ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
At Epro, we empower NHS staff through digital tools, so they can focus more on patients than on paperwork. I started at the company in the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak, and lockdown was actually imposed on my second day — quite a rollercoaster to begin with!
I’ve been honoured to be a part of a company that operates more like a not-for-profit than a company looking to gain commercially from the NHS and healthcare system, just when it needs the most support. One of the most interesting stories was around an NHS Trust which was at the frontline of caring for COVID-19 patients, who sent us a request for some sort of monitoring system for COVID-19 testing and patient care.
Within the hour, we had created specific Alerts software that was patched over to them.
That technology immediately began to make a tangible difference to that NHS Trust, empowering them to protect staff and patients better, to plan bed and ward management, understand infection and contagion…
The list goes on. It’s a fascinating example of how technology can and will make differences to real world situations.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m a copywriter by professional training: even before I graduated, I was freelance writing to earn some pennies and gain experience. I was given a commission of writing 50 articles within a month. Easy, I thought. I’m a fast writer, even when being creative, and I was keen to impress my new editor.
The 50 articles were delivered within a week, and I waited with bated breath for the overwhelming gratitude that I was sure to receive.
I didn’t hear a thing.
After a few days, I tentatively sent off an email. Had the articles arrived? Yes, was the terse response, and they would get back to me in three weeks with the next commission.
My ego was well and truly deflated. I had assumed that going above and beyond would be applauded, but actually, as I learned later on in my career, in many storytelling situations, if the brief is 50 articles over a month, that’s what they need. You won’t get any additional applause by going beyond the brief.
Extending the brief, of course, is a different matter. Spotting a need that someone has not yet seen, and filling it — that is when you have started to think strategically and with vision, rather than just day to day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve never much been one for hierarchy, and that’s one of the things that drew me to Epro. A good idea is a good idea, no matter who it came from. I like that creativity in technology and design come together to make tangible differences. Software as a service (SaaS) is all well and good, but it’s much easier to celebrate progress when someone comes up with an idea, is truly listened to, the idea is validated, built, and deployed.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re a bit more understated than exciting. There’s a massive impact that can be achieved with the quiet but super-efficient beautiful management of patient’s healthcare information in a flexible way. Think how many hours are spent by healthcare professionals at the computer, filling in paperwork. What if we could reduce that by 50%?
We’ve been humbled to appreciate how important our solutions are to our clients at a time like this, when the NHS is under great stress.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice is to leaders of all genders: learn what thriving looks like. It’s very easy to state from a place of naivety that we want to see our team thriving, but what does that look like? How can you encourage something that you do not recognise?
While everyone may have a different approach, to me, a thriving team is:
- challenging me. I don’t know everything, why should my suggestions be taken as gospel?
- pushing the boundaries of their role. Passionate about something else? How can that help the business succeed?
- listening to everyone in the room. The best ideas come from the quietest people.
- taking pride not only in their own work, but the work of others. Celebrating the progress and growth of others ensures we pull together as a team.
- joyful and frustrated when circumstances dictate. Yes, I’d like to have an always joyful team, but you know you’ve created a safe space when people can share their frustrations in down times.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Again, I think this is useful for leaders of all genders when it comes to managing a large team: you cannot be everyone and you cannot be everywhere. I’ve seen leaders attempt to organised one to ones with every single person in their team, and all it’s done is run them ragged, and not deliver any real impact for the team!
Delegate leadership in two ways. Firstly, empower a senior team between you and the rest of the team, even if just for personal development or training. That will give you a line of support, and the people in your team will have people probably far more available to go to for the little challenges. You’ll also find people there to mentor, to empower them to grow in their own leadership skills.
Secondly, empower each individual to take responsibility for their actions, their output, and their development. We are not children, and some of the best managers I have encountered have given even the most junior in their team the opportunity to lead and manage themselves.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Too many to mention! I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation in which I haven’t been encouraged to develop and grow, from teachers to university lecturers to managers throughout my career. I know that’s not everyone’s experience, and I’m aware of the privilege that has afforded me.
I think when it comes down to it though, I’m most grateful to my parents. They created a home full of love and questions, encouraging the pause of a meal to pull an encyclopedia down from a bookcase and pour over it to answer a question. How does cement get made? Why doesn’t everyone get a mortgage immediately? Who decides where a continent begins and ends?
This acceptance of questioning, and their encouragement to go and find the answers, has formed such a fundamental part of my personality. I credit this as a major asset, enabling me to reach C-suite before thirty.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I never wanted to look back at the end of my career and think: “Yes, I managed to flog a bunch of stuff.”
That’s why I started off my career in a completely different direction: in heritage. After winning a scholarship for my Medieval Studies masters at the University of York, I won a competition while only 21 to design the Medieval Collection exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum, and worked at Jorvik and the York Museums Trust while at university. I worked as a Researcher for an Ian Hislop/BBC production, and spent 6 months interning at the National Trust.
It could all have been very different, but since transitioning my career to storytelling in a more corporate setting, I’ve worked predominantly with businesses doing good, even when there is a commercial angle. EdTech, MedTech, community action, sustainable housing, sustainable finance: I’ve poured my ideas and creativity into these areas to ensure that good ideas which can do good, rise to the top.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A good story isn’t always enough. You can have the best story, one that is truly ground-breaking, but if the world isn’t ready to hear it, or the timing isn’t quite right, it doesn’t matter how good it is. I once worked on an incredible project with a client about the impact of technology on people’s grieving processes, and the day we launched our report, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced their pregnancy.
- Closed books, like closed people, are the most interesting. Speaking as a loud and extroverted person, the closed people — the quiet ones, who don’t volunteer ideas — are usually the most interesting, and you could be the first person to find this out.
- Being right isn’t the same as getting it right. I’d still call myself a pretty outspoken person, but I’ve learnt that being right doesn’t mean that I’ve acted in the right way every time. In fact, sometimes being right in a debate is the very last thing of importance.
- Invest time, not money. When it comes to rewarding teams, money goes a little way, but time goes even further. Take them out for lunch. Treat them to a training course. Send them to represent your company at an awards show. Give them 5 days of extra paid holiday. The time you spend with them, and the time you give them back, simply can’t be bought.
- Each day is fresh, with no mistakes in it. Anne of Green Gables taught me many things, but perhaps the most important is that no matter what happens today, tomorrow is fresh, with no mistakes in it. A critical lesson for someone like myself who invests so much of their emotional wellbeing into their work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I wish we could, as a generation, fall in love again with libraries. Libraries are not only the repositories of old knowledge and told stories, but where people share living skills, make real life connections. They host training and play, empower those to get digital, host art classes, language lessons, kids groups…
While it may be true that this is an overly-romantic view, I don’t believe that libraries need to necessarily be physical to have the same impact. How can libraries host digital learning? How can they create a sense of community online? How have audio books, digital films, and other library offerings brought great ideas to the masses?
Libraries are the closest thing we have to magical portals, and I’d love to see them full to bursting, both online and offline.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Mind how you go.”
It was a special way that a loved one in my family used to wish people well upon parting. Although deceptively simple, it carries all the connotations of a caring farewell: you are going, and I cannot and would not stop you. You have your own journey, and because you matter to me, keep safe until we meet again.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen — two of the greatest ‘sirs’ I think you’ll find. Not only do I love them in their various roles (Jean-Luc and Gandalf being perhaps two of the best), but they seem to have so much fun together. Who wouldn’t want to have a boozy brunch with them?