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In conversation with…Emma Gervasio

What was your first-ever job?

It was at Cooper’s & Lybrand in Leeds, in their corporate recovery team. I worked there during the summer and a bit during Easter for a few years. It was in their corporate recovery team – so I ended up with surprising familiarity with the Insolvency Act.

When I think about it now it was a different world. People smoked at their desks! Email was a novelty and vastly entertaining – such a new thing cobbled together with bits of chunky code. I’ve still got some examples of the ridiculous emails people used to send back then.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

The first person that comes to mind is Neil Gaiman – who I love. He’s so clever and the way he writes is so impressive. He speaks so magically.

The second option – and he might be more fun to actually meet – is Jarvis Cocker. I’m listening to his book on Radio 4 at the moment and it’s great.

Then the all-for-nothing option would have to be Bill Gates. I think I’d get huge value from that. I love the fact that he’s so determined to do good with the vast sums of money he has. That he’s not content to sit out but needs to keep working at it.

Now I feel that I’ve let myself down as they are all white men – but this is where I landed. Interesting who I jump to as cultural touchstones. This can’t be right, can it? This list is not what it should be!

Highlight of your career (so far?)

This is another tricky question and I really don’t know. I’ve been lucky enough to have done so many things and moved around so much.

I just love working at ‘The Place’ it’s gorgeous and their work is fabulous. The education and performance work they do there is amazing.

When I was at Accenture I was lucky enough to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company – which was another real highlight.

Doing my MBA was also a highlight. It’s what helped me get into Accenture, which I loved. It created so many opportunities to work with some amazing people and clients. I’m a huge fan. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Now I have my own gig. I’ve got the flexibility to work on different things and I’m loving the variety. It’s great to have a chance to build up my own skills alongside the varied projects I get to work on

Nature or nurture?

You’re asking an undergrad philosophy student here. This question makes me remember my years ploughing through the ancient Greek (I did classics).

Honestly, I don’t know. It’s both – it’s hard to say… If pushed, I’d come down on the side of nature.

Best advice you ever heard or received?

No clue, honestly.

What talent do you yearn for?

I have a trapeze in my house and I wish I was better at it. I’d like to be better at circus skills generally. Would love to be able to do the silks.

The house we live in now just about has enough space, but we’re about to leave – so I need to pull my sock on and get on with it. I’ve got two months to make it happen. My family think I’m mad and certain to break my neck. But, it can’t be that difficult, can it? So I’m above all desperate for some handyman skills!

What is your favourite brand and why?

I’m going to go for Wyatt & Jack. They’re a tiny business, but I love them. They’re based in the Isle of White and make these beautiful bags out of plastics (think old bouncy castles and other hard-to-recycle plastics) to stop them from getting into the ocean. The Navy will come to them and ask them to help recycle old life rafts. They had an Inflatable amnesty – where people gave them unwanted vinyl or inflatable and they turned them into fantastic bags. It’s just such a good example of taking the supply chain in the right direction.

What book do you most recommend to others?

The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gwande. He’s a genius, you should listen to his Reith Lectures. Just made my tiny little mind explode. I love the way he pulls in learning from so many different places – distils it all down and simplifies it all. The checklist is 10 questions that are used in hospitals around the world. It’s about finding those fundamental, simple things the people need to make sure the work is done properly. I’ve seen it in action when both my child and I were in hospital.

Then, if it was fiction, it would be anything by Angela Carter, like The Bloody Chamber. I love it. It’s dark reworked fairy tales – I mean really, really dark.

What last impressed you at work?

I’m perennially impressed by people’s ability to achieve – if they’re given the space. If they have a clear purpose and a mandate to get there, they do. I always remember bringing someone out of one role into another where she had the scope to grow and be recognised. She smashed it.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

I think I’d say – listening. The most important lesson. Letting people feel they’ve been heard. I’ve got better at it but it took a long time for the penny to drop.I still find it hard. I have to force myself to listen properly. I’m always trying to jump in – racing on the next thing. It’s hard, but I’m getting there.

I’ve also learnt something from every job I didn’t get. I tend to only regret things I’ve not tried.

What do you want to do when you retire?

I’ve always said I don’t want to be doing something that makes me feel like I want to retire. I always want to be doing something – side huddles, advisory roles, running my own business. We’ll all be paying mortgages off into our 70s so it has to be something more than just paying the bills. I know people in their 70s who are still working and doing amazing, constructive things. I want to do that.

I like more time to travel and live in other countries. I didn’t expect to spend my working life in the UK. My mum went travelling for months around India in her 60s, it wasn’t weird for her at all. Think this is perfectly normal and what I’d like to do someday.

What would you say you need to do to think you’ve arrived?

Being invited to be on desert island disks.

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