In our regular series, high-fliers tell us where they took off
Hi, Simon! Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Simon Thorpe. I’m an Angel investor — or, as I like to say: angel on a good day, dragon on a bad day. I have invested in 60-plus private UK companies in the world of tech and tech-enabled healthcare.
What was your #MyFirstMcJob?
Cleaning the Brillo pad factory, in Maidenhead in Berkshire.
How did you get that job?
My mum and dad told me to get a job and earn some money, so I think I found it in the local paper, rang up and they said: “Come and see us.”
What did you have to do?
Brillo pads have got that horrible pink soap in them, which smells disgusting and is supposed to clean your frying pans. The pink soap was cooked in three giant kettles, and it was my job to get inside these kettles and clean them with a hose and a lot of elbow grease.
How long did you work there for?
Three weeks during the summer recess, when I was 16 or 17. One of the bitter lessons I learned was that I had to cycle there from a few miles away and was always late. So every day I lost the first half an hour’s pay because I was five minutes late.
Were there any perks of the job?
Well, not really! I got paid though, minus my 30 minutes every morning.
What did you spend your first paycheque on?
I was quite interested in cars and I managed to purchase a grey Mini for £5, which even then wasn’t very much money. So I spent my money doing up my wheels.
Did anything particularly funny happen?
I was rather overwhelmed in this huge factory cleaning these enormous things I had never seen before. And the factory was empty because everybody was on holiday, so I was a real Billy No Mates!
What skills did you learn that still use today?
I ended up doing a lot of jobs from painting hotel rooms to selling ice cream to working on a sheep farm in Australia. They teach you there are many transferable skills. It is easy to think your job is peculiar to a particular industry, but in reality you can easily transfer knowledge between jobs. I also learned you have to work hard!
Are you in contact with anyone you worked with?
No, because I was working on my own! But after studying economics at Manchester University, I started training for an accounting firm where one of the main skills I learned is that you need to network and think about your transferable skills. Careers tend not to be linear because there isn’t an established career path anymore. My whole career has definitely been non-linear.
Why is alumni important to you personally?
I always say to young people: you’d be surprised how many connections you make now that you will still have in 30 or 40 years. I’m still in contact with many people I met at university and studied accountancy with. Those contacts are enormously important because warm connections are much better than cold ones.
Why is alumni important generally?
Whatever your background, if you’ve lived the job with other people, you automatically have a shared understanding and something to share. Because you’ve been through the same set of disciplines, they will become trusted connections. For example, if you learn accounting, you automatically have credibility in the financial world.
Would happen if you went back and worked in the Brillo pad factory today?
I’d probably think there must be a better way of doing things and would want to employ some technology. It wouldn’t surprise me if under current health and safety, a robot does the cleaning instead of a human.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one bit of advice, what would you say?
Firstly, ask more questions. Secondly, find a mentor. When you’re young, it’s hard to have a vision 10 years ahead. That’s another reason why alumni is important. If you build a network, you are likely to find somebody who can help you. I’m often in a position as an angel investor where I’ll say: “I don’t know the answer, but I know somebody who does.”