Sophie Theen is currently the Global Head of HR & Talent at 11 FS. She was described as a reformed engineer when she had her first taste of HR with IBM Australia. She then went on to pursue a career in fixing problems in people, not machines. For 8 years, she led recruitment projects with Ford, General Motors, and IBM before moving to 11:FS (a Challenger Consultancy) to define the company’s ultimate working culture through a series of employer branding efforts. Her focus is aimed at cultural paradigms during hyper growth stages in a start-up, and championing diversity and equality in a future-focused way. She loves a challenge in solving people problems in organizations using structured, disruptive thinking. “People are your future”, she recites. Aimed at cultural paradigms during hyper growth, of which she has much experience, to ensure they have the most effective leadership to bring a new kind of career lifestyle.
Tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up in HR?
I started out my career in Australia, where I was a short-lived engineer. Although I loved the industry, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life…
While I was there, I went to a graduate networking event where I met the founder of a company in their early stages. He suggested that I try recruitment, and it made sense to stay in an industry I loved whilst trying something different.
As I was still ‘a fresh grad’, it made sense to work with my fellow recent grads, and joining the company as a graduate recruitment manager was very fulfilling. I was comfortable with the industry and it quickly taught me the importance of doing something I love.
How has migrating from Australia to London influenced your career?
Moving to London and working in the same industry gave me a lot of comfort. The geographical change didn’t make too much of a difference to me in terms of my day-to-day, but the cultural changes were intensely challenging. Evaluating the difference of working styles and market expectations as well as candidate/client requirements had given my career the global exposure that I’d dreamt of.
London became the place that where I’d meet new people from different backgrounds who share the same passion as me. Thanks to this, I organically expanded my community by going to talks and listening to people who’ve changed their career from one discipline to another, or who’d gone on to start a company. There was an endless possibility to pursue your dreams and do what you love! The way startups are so open-minded about disrupting the way things work ultimately changed the way I thought about my career- I started to drive it myself.
Before 11:FS, you worked at Revolut as their Global Head of HR. With it being your first fintech role, what was it like?
The diverse mindset from the London community gave me the reassurance that I needed to tackle the job – but my experience there had shifted my career goals entirely. I had always thought that my end goal would be the “person or manager” in front of me, or simply wanting to be “someone who is successful” rather than being confident about my own skills, my own experiences, and my own thoughts or ideas. I suppose that’s why so many others drove their careers towards startups, leaving behind their out-of-date baggages from the corporate world. And Revolut’s ownership ethos taught me that.
I was empowered to challenge myself daily, and that was very important to me. The team was small, and while we were going through hyper-growth, I had to design processes that would either make or break us. That was a fulfilling role.
How have your experiences influenced your current role at 11:FS? How would you describe the company culture?
My recruitment, HR, and consultancy experiences created a blend of behaviours and working styles. Is it wrong to say that I’m wiser than I was before, albeit doing a similar job? I’ve brought my learnings from prior roles to 11:FS and used them to reiterate better, more efficient, more employee experience-focused processes. My learnings taught me to recalibrate my thought process regularly because that’s what I didn’t do the last time and it wasn’t good for my well being. The people we have are natural givers and educators, and that meant that I was no longer in a lonely HR role (which can be quite normal for most startups).
Our culture is collaborative and cohesive with a big focus on ownership, but the underpinning ethos is purely centered around respecting each others’ differences. That’s how I’ve created success with cultivating inclusivity here, it was driven from top down. I was with my “tribe”, a motto we use.
What does your hiring process look like?
Inclusivity is key for us, so we wanted to be in a position where we fully understand what embracing each others’ differences meant. That started from using a simple hiring methodology that doesn’t discount people from an unconventional background. We don’t just highlight the candidate’s current role, but we also value their past experiences.
If you take a look at our current workforce, we have a blend of people from different backgrounds with a variety of experiences: professionally and culturally. I think this comes from the founding group being of different professional backgrounds.
We don’t see D&I as just another buzzword. Although Fintech is a male-dominated industry (some may say), it’s something we want to tackle organically, rather than just ticking boxes. I’d like to think that we’re a grown-up startup, and we add value from hiring people from beyond the Fintech industry.
Our onboarding program is also slightly longer than the usual, but integrating our people means no heavy sessions with information overload!
How did you win the Linkedin startup of the year award? (Massive congrats, by the way!)
I believe it was down to our engagement, employer brand and company brand – but it’s not just a HR thing or a direct contribution to TA: our leadership team are SO engaged. These days, branding lives in the cloud and our LT has a huge presence on Linkedin.
11: FS is all about building a community, and staying present in people’s lives (but not in their faces). Our podcast explores the world of fintech, blockchain, and cryptocurrency news, as well as insights from the emerging field of insurtech. There’s a real gap in this space for people who want to be both educated and entertained.
From a talent point of view: it’s the way we run talent and recruitment. We’re working with our people at 11:FS to reach their dreams! It’s all about your passion, working with the people that you hold in high regards, and of course contributing back to our community. We hope to lead in this space.
Do you have any final thoughts on the future of HR?
The profession has evolved to be centered around a holistic people strategy, while at the same time allowing HR and Talent to have ownership of their worlds. After all, it’s all about employee experience, isn’t it?
In HR it’s been a long-standing profession where qualification has value. But in talent, there is a lack of understanding still. It’s a full lifecycle; it’s just as important to attract talent as it is to retain it.
I’m a big advocate for HR Tech, and the more mundane, repetitive tasks that we can replace with tech, the more invigorating and sexy HR becomes! That’s the vision.
From Verity Raphael
Verity Raphael is a Senior Marketing Executive based in the London office. Since graduating with a Masters in English, she has progressed from sales to marketing at Hibob: helping the European People and Talent community feel more valued and connected to their company and colleagues. Outside of work, her passions include modernist literature, underground music, Scandinavian design, positive people and art galleries.