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From Recruiter to Chief of Staff - Dream, Believe, Achieve

Emma-Jayne Gooch

CEO

Plain Purpose Ltd


Early Years

I grew up in Suffolk, starting from relatively humble beginnings. Being brought up in a council house in a village, it was essential for my mum for us not to be judged as the council house kids. So, she made sure that we always spoke properly. It's fascinating because since I've moved to Cumbria because of how I speak, I've been judged as "Oh, you must be posh, and you must come from a privileged background."


I find it interesting how we judge people. My upbringing was anything but privileged, but it gave me an excellent grounding. One of my big inspirations was my Nan, who spent her career cleaning the toilets for the council at the Abbey Gardens, a beautiful tourist attraction in Bury, St Edmunds. I used to go and see her, and she used to say to me, "if it weren't for people like me, people like them would have nowhere to pee. So, no one is better than anybody else." This taught me a vital lesson.


Portrait photo of Emma-Jayne Gooch


Early Career

From being a young girl, I always wanted to be a drama teacher. It was just something I was passionate about. I wanted to help people, mentor people, and bring out their confidence, which I enjoyed. I went all through school with this aspiration and went on to do performing arts at college and did a work placement with a school that said they've never had anyone so suited to the work.


At this point in my life, it was definitely what I was going to do. I decided to defer my university for a year and go and work on the holiday parks. I decided it would be good to get some work experience and a little money before going to university. I went there as an entertainer. I loved it, and then when my university place came through, I decided not to take it.


I carried on working at the holiday parks and ended up working for Greene King Brewery, then fell into recruitment. In the meantime, I had achieved my aspiration to get married, and have children. Everything was stable. Then due to a personal situation, my husband got a job transfer to Wiltshire.


Life turned upside down.

We moved to Wiltshire. By now, I had two children. One was 22 months, one nearly four. Life was right on track, but then I discovered that my husband had an affair. I was living in a place that I didn't know. I had two young children, and it felt like my whole world had fallen apart.


Something significant to me was that I didn't want my children to be brought up by somebody else. So, it was always the case that if I had children, I would work school hours and be there for them. I'd be the perfect mother. I'd cook their dinners, and they’d have friends around to play. I had it all mapped out, and suddenly my life fell apart. I was working part-time in recruitment at the time.


My parents had moved to Cumbria just two months prior, a place that we had always visited for holidays. Also, my uncle had lived in Cumbria since I was six. My dad's health took a turn, so they had decided to move to Cumbria because it's cheaper to live, and they could live off just mum's salary. I packed my kids into a car with everything I could fit and travelled up to Cumbria. I arrived in Cumbria with no money, nowhere to live, two children, and no job. I didn't know what to do.


"Dream, believe, achieve." I find that "if you can dream it, you can achieve it."

My mum and dad lived in a tiny bungalow, and there wasn't room for the three of us to be there. So, I knew I had a very short time to make some decisions. You can imagine the heartbreak I was going through; I didn't know anybody and had to do something. So, with the help of my Nan, who lent me £1,000 for a deposit on a house and words of encouragement that, "you'll be absolutely fine".


New Beginnings

My old employers kindly wrote a reference to say that I was still employed with them working remotely, even though I wasn't, but this allowed me to get somewhere to live. I wrote to all the recruitment agencies in the area, and I applied for cleaning, supermarket jobs, and all types of jobs. It didn't matter what I did. I just knew I had to provide for the children.


I had a bit of a quandary because if I was going to afford to run a house, I'd have to work full time, then my children would need to go to nursery, or should I claim benefits and stay at home with the children? Either was viable. Either was not better or worse than the other. But I had to look at myself, and I decided that I wanted to be a role model for the children. I wanted to show them that you could do anything if you put your mind to it, you work hard, believe in yourself, and other people believe in you. So, the children went into a nursery and then got my first job with Rullion.


I helped Rullion to set up a permanent recruitment division in Cumbria. This provided my first insight into the nuclear industry. While at Rullion, I came across a business cluster and went to my first Britain's Energy Coast Business Cluster (BECBC) meeting.


Emma-Jayne Gooch at a BECBC event


BECBC

So, there I was. There was probably about 25 people at the event, and I remember walking in; I was so nervous. Hazel Duhy came up to me and said, "Is this your first time? You'll have to stand up." This was regarding new attendees standing up and talking about themselves for two minutes. I was like, oh my God, how am I going to do this? I had all my notes about Rullion. I stood up, and I spoke, and it and I was fine. I lived, it was okay, it was fine.


After some time, I was approached by McKenzie Douglas, a legal recruitment business based in Windermere that wanted to set up a nuclear division. I set them up a nuclear division at Workington. As part of my strategy, I would continue to attend the BECBC because I had started building excellent networks.


At one of these meetings held at Energus, the BECBC said they were looking for people to join the management team and the board. I thought I'd love to be on the management team, but I'm just a girl from Suffolk. I haven't got a degree, and I'm just winging it here. I thought there's no way that I'd get on. I was talking myself out of it. I decided that I had got something to offer, I could help. So, I decided to put my name forward for the management team, and, to my surprise, I was selected to join.


I remember the first board meeting, and I'll never, ever forget it. At the time, Dick Raaz was the Managing Director of LLWR. I'm still friends with him now. He was just such a character, and everyone held him in high regard. There was Neil McNicholas, MD of Direct Rail Services and Steve McClure from Bardon Aggregates, and so many prominent senior figures. I remember walking into my first meeting, and I genuinely felt like I was walking into the staff room at school. I still felt like I was this little girl who got to sit with all these grownups. I felt so nervous. I was just star-struck.


At the first meeting, I just sat and listened. I then slowly got over that, and I became quite vocal and managed to bring something different into the dynamics of the management team and then the board. For me, it was about always being the champion for small businesses. Being part of the BECBC board enabled me to meet some key people who took me under their wing and built my confidence. The strange thing is, by association, people suddenly thought that I was worth talking to. So, because of who I had been seen with, people quickly gave me time when perhaps previously, they wouldn't have done.


Nu-Exec

My strong network allowed me to start my own business, which I had always wanted to do. I would never have been able to start NuExec, had it not been for the people I met at the BECBC. Neil McNicholas of Direct Rail gave me my first vacancy when I started up the business.


I served for seven years as part of the management committee and, latterly, the board because they gave me something, and I wanted to share that back. So, through NuExec Consulting, my senior recruitment business, I won a contract with LLWR for all their permanent recruitment. This was long after Dick had gone, but I always felt so connected to LLWR. I was delighted to have the contract. Their business felt like a family. I'm very much a person that connects. I need to communicate with people. If I have that connection, it just allows me to do great things. So that's what it's all about for me. It's about having those connections with people.


While I was at NuExec, I started speaking to people and hearing about their frustrations with Sellafield Ltd. I would listen to all manner of issues, and when I asked, "What have you done about that?" I was met with the response, "if we voiced it, we won't get any future work, or we'll lose our jobs." Genuinely people feared speaking up about Sellafield. My view was that it's not an attack on Sellafield; if they don't know what the issues are and the consequences of their actions. How can they take learning and be different in the future? So, I decided to start a blog.


Blogger

I wrote the blog for two reasons: First, I want people to know I knew what I was talking about. I learned about the industry. I knew what was going on because if people trust and know that you've got good knowledge, they will come and do business with you.


Number two, I wanted people to know the challenges that others were going through. I wanted to help businesses to get over those challenges. I shared my knowledge about what's going on in the industry. I tried to save people time having to do all that research that I would do anyway.


Separately, I also wanted to give a little bit of myself. I would always do an 'it could only happen to me' section at the end of the blog. I was never short of content, as everything happens to me. If there's something terrible that will happen, or something funny is going to happen. You can bet your bottom dollar; it's going to be to me.


The blog grew to have 6,000 readers, which I was proud of. But more than that, what made me proud is that it made Sellafield take notice and not in a negative way, but they started to listen and work with me.


Move to Sellafield

I never saw going to Sellafield as something that would happen. It wasn't even really on my radar. Although interestingly, I remember early on, when I moved to Cumbria, seeing a role as an ombudsman at Sellafield Ltd and thinking, oh, I'd love to do that job. It's bizarre because now I guess I did that role and quite a bit more.


I was writing the blog, running NuExec and on the board at BECBC. I was getting a bit tired of recruitment because it didn't excite me anymore. What excited me was writing the blog, the supply chain stuff, and the introductions, but I wasn't getting paid for all that I was doing.


Companies would call me and say, "I want to work with Sellafield. What would you suggest? How do I do that? Where should I buy offices? Where should I move to?" I was helping all of these people and companies, but it wasn't making me money.


I was rethinking how I do business anyway when Martin Chown (then SL Supply Chain Director, now CEO) spoke at a BECBC event. He'd just joined the business, and he was talking about his vision. I wasn't expecting much, but I sat and listened and felt inspired by what he was saying. So, I was like, oh, hang on a minute. This guy has got something. Because of the work I had been doing with Sellafield and my blog, I was fortunate that they were very keen to meet Martin after he'd spoken. When we met we just connected. I got what he was talking about. He got what I was talking about.


After the meetup, I didn't think anything of it and carried on doing what I was doing. Martin and I would bump into each other at different kinds of events, and we'd start talking. Then we ended up having a more structured meet-up, a cup of coffee at Costa, where he would say to me, "So what's going on?" And I'd say, oh, well, this has happened, and he would ask, "so what do you think we should do about that?" I'd give my advice, and then he'd tell me some of his challenges, and I'd give him advice. I'd tell him about my challenges, in which he gave me his ideas.


This went on for a little while, and then one February - I remember because it was the day after my birthday. We sat in Costa after seeing each other at the NI dinner in Cumbria. We were talking through some stuff, and I just said, "you know, what you need is me to come and sort this out for you." He replied, "well, why don't you come?"


"Taking the initiative and contacting people directly, even if just on LinkedIn, goes a long way."

It was just like that. I thought everything through and decided I wanted to go in and influence what I've been discussing. I could go in and make a difference in the supply chain. Make doing business easier, and make sure that there's no mystery for people trying to do business with Sellafield. And I did just that through owning the SME agenda, bringing in LINC for Sellafield, organising and facilitating Directors Forums, SME Forums, Trade Missions, and so much more.


When Martin became CEO, knowing my tenacity and passion to make change and overcome barriers to drive things forward, I joined him as his Chief of Staff.



Changing the Culture

The role of Chief of Staff was busy and fascinating, but when Martin asked me to create and lead a culture change at Sellafield through a purpose and manifesto, I was delighted.


Historically whenever Sellafield looked at anything culture or values related, they would bring in fancy pants consultants that used language that was only connective to the most senior or the organisation. Then they would try and force it down on the workforce. I was determined to do something different.


I approached the creation of the manifesto through conversations. Removing hierarchy and allowing people of all levels of the organisation to share their stories about working at Sellafield. They told me what was good but also what was bad. They shared the behaviours they wanted to see and how they felt they should behave.


"Don't get too hung up on the technical aspects of the roles...attitudes and behaviours are such a big thing too."

The manifesto and purpose were created using their words and their experiences. The manifesto alone, though, would not change the culture, and that is why I built a network of change-makers who would work across the business, influencing change throughout their peer groups and working on projects to make Sellafield the organisation we all wanted it to be. I was delighted when the World Association of Nuclear Operations gave the work done on the manifesto a strength in their review. This was a great opportunity to commercialise the manifesto.


Plain Purpose Ltd

In November 2022, I took the brave step to set up a business on my own again. Plain Purpose helps to inspire organisations through facilitation, from inspiring organisations to understand why they exist, understanding organisational culture and where improvements are needed, to facilitating with stakeholders, employees, and so much more using the best techniques to ensure full participation with everyone being heard.


Purpose Identification - helping companies and individuals understand why they exist and why anyone should care.


Culture enquiry - identifying the real culture within your business and improvement plans


Facilitation - Passionate about great facilitation offering independence and energy.


Whilst not what I set out to do a number of companies have been utilising me for nuclear consultancy work. Having worked at Sellafield for 5.5 years in Supply Chain Development and in the CEO's office companies are keen to benefit from that knowledge.


Initially, my purpose identification work was going to be just for businesses but, a number of people approached me and asked if I could help them find their own purpose, which I now enjoy. Their purpose statement gives them a clear North Star that provides direction and focus. It helps them understand what to say yes to and when to say no. Once written, it becomes their roadmap to decisions, actions and behaviours.


Personal Life

I have two children, ages 18 and 16 and am a proud mummy of a 2-year-old cavapoo, Bella. I count myself as really, really blessed because I have a circle around me that is amazing.


My dad is my favourite person in the whole world. I love him to bits. I've also got a group of girlfriends who are the most inspirational women you will ever know. Three are very successful businesswomen in Cumbria; one is a social entrepreneur and one used to work at the nursery where I decided to send my children when I first moved to Cumbria. She always says, "Why am I in this group? Because you have all got high-power jobs." But I say - in the spirit of my Nan cleaning those toilets all those years ago - it's not about the jobs that we do.


When I moved to Cumbria, she was the only person that was there for me. She helped me with my children when I was at my lowest, and I wouldn't have gotten through without her. She saved my life. So, it doesn't matter what your job is. It's about what your heart's like. It's about what you give, how kind you are. So, these women are fantastic. They are my inspiration, and they keep me busy. So, I'm always out doing things with them.


Career Advice

I think there are a couple of pieces of advice that are important; first of all, and I used to say this to my children as well. I love Ashley Banjo, Diversity and the quote, "Dream, believe, achieve." I find that "if you can dream it, you can achieve it." You've just got to believe in yourself. And that's so important.


Another important thing is to tell yourself that respect is essential. You should always be respectful of people. No one is better than you. I used to have this natural fear of talking to people who were more senior than me. It doesn't matter whether you're a managing director of a company or a cleaner of the company. You are still people with the same feelings, beliefs, ethics, morals, and emotions.


So never feel that you're not good enough to speak to someone or have that conversation or, to relate to someone because, in this world, we're all equal. We come in the same way. We go out the same way. So, believe in yourself and just put yourself out there. You can achieve anything that you want to. I genuinely believe that if you work hard, believe in yourself, and surround yourself with people who love you and believe in you, you can smash it.


As for the nuclear industry itself, as you are dealing with interesting and complex material, there is a whole range of careers available, and at Sellafield, at least, there is 100's of years of work. There are exciting opportunities to develop and learn and be involved in world firsts - where else can you say that?!


As for a career path into nuclear, there are many ways and lots of information out there to help you. Don't get too hung up on the technical aspects of the roles. You will need to be qualified in whatever career path you choose, but attitudes and behaviours are such a big thing too.


For example, my daughter's school friend wanted to get into nuclear but had no links with the industry. She asked my daughter if she could have a call with me, which I was happy to do. After our chat, I put it out on LinkedIn that she is looking for work experience, and she is now linked with doing something with KBR. Taking the initiative and contacting people directly, even if just on LinkedIn, goes a long way. You can teach nuclear, but you can't teach those skills.


 

Emma-Jayne Gooch

Thanks for reading. You will all agree that Emma-Jayne shows that you can achieve any goal you set for yourself with perseverance and the courage to chase your dreams.


If you would like to contact Emma-Jayne, you find her on LinkedIn and be sure to check out the Plain Purpose website to find out how you can find your and your organisation's purpose.