In our regular series, industry bigwigs take us back to their first jobs
Hi Thea! Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Thea Brook, founder and CEO of The Brook, a vegan food company who ship frozen vegan starters, mains and desserts into retail and directly to people at home.
What was your first McJob?
A clay pigeon trap operator.
A clay pigeon trap operator.
How on earth did you get a job as a clay pigeon trap operator?
I grew up in the Cambridge countryside. There was a place just down the road with lots of fields. At the weekend they would set up clay pigeon traps and people would come and have a day shooting. One of my friends kept horses there, so she got me the job. I was 14 so I said: “Yeah, I’ll have some money!”
What did you have to do?
I’d have to get there for 6am — a harsh, early start for a 14-year-old! — and set up all the traps. There were these huge old metal rusty machines. You sat on one end and had to pull back this long metal arm and clip it into place, so when it was released, it would swing and fling the clay. Then the lady who ran the farm would make bacon butties and mushroom butties, and we’d stop for breakfast and a cup of tea. Then the customers would arrive and spend the day shouting “Pull” and we’d fling the clays up into the air.
Did anything particularly funny happen or — eek! — go wrong?
The machines were pretty dangerous so I think we were lucky to walk away with our fingers! You’d sometimes be in the line of shot, so they put up hay bales and fence panels to try to protect us. One windy day, everything came down on top of me. I was half on the trap, half on the floor, with hay bales and fence panels on top of me. It seemed to take forever for the customers to stop shouting “pull” and realise something was wrong.
How long did you work there for?
About six months.
Did you get “fired”? Arf.
Ha! No. I went to work as a kitchen porter.
What skills did you learn that you might use today?
I learned that team spirit and teamwork is really important when everybody’s really tired and there’s heavy lifting to do. We’d keep each other laughing to get through the early mornings. It was quite a physical, boy’s job, so it was good to get into that mind set that boys and girls can do the same things.
Are you still in contact with anyone?
Three of us from school worked there and we’re all still in touch.
Why is alumni so important to you?
Challenges and growth in the workplace don’t happen in the same way around friends and family. Pivotal points of development happen around colleagues. Maintaining those relationships is really important because those people know you in a different way and can support through different challenges.
Why is alumni important more generally?
I’ve gone back to more than one company because of maintaining those relationships. Since starting my own business, I’ve had more than one person leave and come back. They have pre-existing relationships, understand the culture and can hit the ground running. So rather than starting from scratch, you can keep it within the business.
What would happen if you went back and worked at the clay pigeon place at 6am tomorrow?
I would probably spend the whole day talking to the customers about why they should only shoot clay pigeons and not actual pigeons. Now that I’m vegan I probably spend the whole time campaigning to be more ethical with life choices!