Moving to London as a fresh 21 year old, Sophie describes having no fear and no idea. Determined to not make beans on toast a regular meal, she was quick to take control of her destiny, adapting to the fast pace of London and everything in between.
After graduating from Rangitoto College on Auckland's North Shore in 2012, Sophie left home to live and work in the United States as an au pair. With an itch to travel and explore the world further, she made what she describes as ‘the obvious choice’ and moved to London in 2016.
With every intention to stick with her first London gig as a live-in nanny, Sophie soon realised that living in a London flat with a bunch of kiwis was an experience she didn’t want to miss! This decision led her to look further afield, beyond nannying, as she undertook a number of admin roles within the corporate world, eventually landing a position as a medical secretary looking after 5-7 surgeons a week.
After two years as a medical secretary Sophie was ready for a new challenge. Her cousin Tess had been working for their auntie and uncle Paula and Bill Wallace, helping to build a UK presence for their New Zealand based luxury linen and homeware company, Wallace Cotton.
When Tess decided to move back home, Sophie put herself forward to take over as Operations Manager for the UK branch. She explains, “setting up not only a retail store but a business on the other side of the world was a crazy and terrifying experience.” Despite feeling out of her depth, Sophie felt incredibly lucky for the guidance of a strong New Zealand based team, who at that point had already set up 9 other retail premises across NZ.
Ever since opening in 2018, Sophie has employed a small team to manage the store, allowing her to shift her focus toward planning for future opportunities and growing the brand's presence within the UK market. Sophie emphasises her enjoyment of diving head-first into projects and working out how each of the moving parts will benefit the business as a whole. A freedom not taken for granted, Sophie is able to problem solve and autonomously find a solution. She puts this down to Wallace Cotton's kiwi can-do attitude and their confidence in her ability to use her intuition and test things out.
At the start of the pandemic when both countries entered their first lockdown, Sophie was caught back in New Zealand. She managed her team remotely, who were here on the ground as they moved into the Northcote Road store to dispatch the unusually high volume of online orders.
The past 18 months taught Sophie the meaning of the term ‘survivor's guilt’. At the peak of the first lockdown, Sophie and her small team were dispatching 70-80 orders a day. “I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. We were dealing with a different kind of stress to a lot of other businesses at the time.” Grateful to have been able to keep her staff busy and employed, Sophie also highlights her excitement for seeing other independently run businesses come back to life after months of lockdowns and uncertainty.
Sophie's experience of navigating the pandemic as it played out in the UK, made her recognise the importance of the HR function in a company. “I think people are the resilient cogs that keep business thriving and when empowered, can facilitate and create incredible change, for good.” Having recently completed a Diploma in Human Resources via a UK virtual campus, Sophie sees her future in change management, where she can guide people through uncertainty and work with them to bring out the best in themselves.
Due to the nature of working for a New Zealand business, Sophie is about as connected to home as they come! Since joining as a young member of the NZBWN in February last year, she has also enjoyed attending regular meetups with the network, which has enabled her to engage and learn from other like-minded kiwi women.
Sophie puts it brilliantly, “London is like that auntie who will give you unsolicited advice and lead you in the right (sometimes wrong) direction.” The perfect place for people who want to do it all but don’t know where to start. Sophie's move to the UK saw her go from strength to strength, building a career and establishing a life that she, and other young New Zealanders, would be proud of.