In conversation with Sharon Torpey

“You have to pick yourself up and find a job” … In conversation with Sharon Torpey

Dealing with setbacks is a familiar part of professional life, but if they happen repeatedly, then bouncing back can be tough? Sharon Torpey speaks to Rhianne Williams from Protiviti’s iGROWW network about how she learned to build resilience the hard way.

When Sharon Torpey was studying for her degree in finance and accounting at university, she couldn’t foresee the challenges that lay ahead. It was a well-worn professional path and one where a job would be guaranteed. But despite the opportunities, she would face some of the toughest tests in a career spanning four decades.

After training at the Big Four, Sharon moved into the insurance sector to build on her external audit experience, in internal audit; from there, as part of a small team, she craved the buzz of a larger business and decided to join an American bank. An international role appealed. She loved travel and spent her time in Europe, auditing branches in a “work hard, play hard” culture. It suited her; she learned how the banking industry worked. 

But then came the first blow: the bank merged with another one, and she was made redundant. It was an experience that would become all too familiar. After spending some time working for a Japanese bank, she moved on to another American firm. The move coincided with the economic challenges of the 1990s, with high interest rates and few firms hiring, so she felt lucky to find a role. But what happened? After five years, she was made redundant, again.

Then came an eleven-year stint at an international bank; her sector of choice and one she had grown to love. Setting up teams, working across the world to become global head of audit for risk, compliance and support functions, it was a role that would take her to retirement, so she thought. But it wasn’t to be. Redundancy loomed once again, and Sharon picked herself up to go and work on an interim basis in Ireland.

Back in the UK, Sharon joined the financial services arm of a multinational conglomerate, enjoying six years building teams and travelling across Europe and the US. But another redundancy followed when the firm sold its financial services businesses and the audit function was disbanded. Luckily, through a contact, she was recommended for a role at Bupa as internal audit director in 2017, where she still works today.

“I jokingly say I hold the record for the number of redundancies,” she says. “But they were the most challenging and upsetting times of my career. Just because somebody changes their mind about what they want to do with the business, you lose your job. So, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and find another one.

“The first time it happened, I was absolutely devastated,” she adds. “I found it really hard to pick myself up from it. But each time it happened I made finding a job my full-time job. I was never out of work very long, but I didn’t sit at home and hope for something to happen. I made a lot of effort.”

Rhianne Williams I think your message: ‘when you’re looking for a job, make it your full-time job’, will really resonate with our younger audience. Even applying for graduate schemes can take time and effort, but at the end of the day, it makes sense to make sure the CV is up to scratch, to network with recruiters and apply for roles directly.

Sharon Torpey Speak to everybody you know. You never know where that job is going to come from. Often, it comes from the most unexpected contact you have, and you can’t really plan it. Treat it like a research project. 

Williams That’s great advice, thank you; what’s the best work-related advice you’ve received?

Torpey Don’t sweat the small stuff. Before Covid-19, I very much had two lives: my work life and my home life, and they didn’t cross over. I left my work behind as I sat on the Tube and read the Evening Standard. Now, working at home more, it’s different; but the point is to not worry about things at work, because they will all work out in the end. If they don’t, you will be able to deal with it. Be confident you have worked as hard as you can. You aren’t going to be able to do everything and will never get to the bottom of the to-do list.

Williams It’s a theme we’ve seen with a few of these interviews: there is a self-imposed expectation to be the best partner, wife, friend, and colleague. But people can only do what they can do, of course. What’s your advice for the next generation of women?

Torpey Flexibility and resilience are key. If anything is offered, always say ‘yes’. Even if you’re not sure, give it a go, because that’s the way you’ll find opportunities. It’s also important to build relationships. I’ve got strong friendships from every single place I’ve worked and that’s held me in good stead. Even if you haven’t seen that person for a long time, bouncing ideas around and talking through challenges over coffee, can be helpful.

Williams Thank you so much for your time today, I’ve really appreciated learning about your career and how emotional redundancy can be; the resilience you’ve shown is admirable.

Torpey Thanks so much, it’s been great to talk to you.

iGROWW is Protiviti’s internal women’s network group and stands for ‘Initiative for Growth and Retention of Women at Work’. It has a strong voluntary membership that tackles women’s professional issues through forums, and facilitates networking events and community service activities. For more information, please contact Rhianne Williams [email protected].