Former Student Profile: Paula Cooper Class of 1985
Paula is a Corporate Communications Consultant with CooperNixon Corporate Communications Limited in Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida
What years did you attend WHS?
What did you get up to at WHS in terms of study and extracurricular activities?
I loved all subjects at school (except cookery and needlework) and really wanted to take French and Chemistry at A level, but the schedule was not fully accommodating, so I ended up taking French, German and Economics as a bit of a compromise. Outside study, winter sports and music were my main activities. I definitely preferred winter over summer sports and played netball for the school (and Bucks County) from second year to the end of Sixth Form, and also later for the first team at university. Every summer I scraped into the 2nd tennis team alongside my understanding and patient doubles partner, Karen Watkins, who forgave my mishits and unintended body shots. I took piano (to Grade 8) and classical guitar lessons outside school and, for a short time, trombone lesson in school with Mr Tiedeman (sp?). I performed in a classical eight-piece guitar ensemble with Sarah Turner and Yvette and we won several local music competitions, mainly as there were no other octets in the region. My trombone lessons were short-lived as I often left my trombone on the bus. Not on purpose, of course. It did make it harder to practice though.
Photo: Britta Hammersley, Penny Chapman and Paula (from left to right) on the 4th year school trip to Bath (1981/82),
Do you have any fond memories you’d like to share?
Our whole year was great but my class (2nd to 5th year) was an amazing group of talented individuals. We did not know it at the time (although there were a few telltale signs even then) but in our midst were budding authors, entrepreneurs (shouldn't that be enterpreneuses?), vets, head nurses, rowers, artists, musicians and successful parents-to-be.
In those days, we were sorted not by a hat, but by language choice and age. We were 'class A' with birthdays in September to the end of January and we all studied German with Frau Fink. We had a great team spirit and gave our all to various school competitions. A memorable one was the regular themed 'noticebaord competition'. I can't recall the theme at all but every inch of the back wall of our 'terrapin' classroom was covered with photos, cuttings, artwork and prose, and elicited a 'Streuth' from Deputy Head, Mr Jones when he came round to judge. We were worthy winners on that occasion.
Photo: This was taken in 'Lower Sixth' year (1983/84). Paul is in the bottom row on the left. To the right of Paula is: Joanna (?) and Shivaun Crittenden - both in Paula's year. The girls behind are "Upper Sixth" include the head girl (standing behind Paula). Photo credit to the Bucks Free Press.
What did you do after school? Gap year, straight into business or Uni.
I studied French and German (joint honours) and went straight to University. My third year involved spending 10 months as a language assistant in Germany and I was also obliged to spend as much time as possible during the holidays in France before returning to uni for finals in the fourth year. Despite my own travel and experiences abroad, I was always a little envious of students who had taken a gap year and travelled further afield. I went to Exeter University, which had a great reputation for languages and arts. Apparently my first year overlapped with JK Rowling's final year. We must have crossed paths in the Modern Languages department, but there my dubious claim to fame abruptly ends. I followed up my language studies with an MA in European Management at Cranfield Business School. My makeshift A level choice ended up standing me in extremely good stead for this course.
What are you up to now?
I worked for a business consultancy for two years in central London and then for chilled food company for 16 years at various locations in Lincolnshire and continental Europe. I struck lucky as the company was in a huge growth phase and we all rode that wave year after year. I also met my husband there. I was involved in sales and marketing, new product development, exports, account management and, for six years, business development in Brussels, Belgium. By quirk of fate, I was asked by the Finance Director one day to help him out on the Investor Relations and Corporate Communications side of things. I wasn't really sure what that entailed but gave it a go and this completely changed the direction of my career. I gained invaluable insight into the workings of publicly-listed companies, investment houses and financial analysts and, even though I did not have a financial background, I could do the job and hold my own in a new environment. I'm still in that line of business today via a stint in a large London financial PR outfit and, since having two children, in my own consultancy which gives me more flexibility to manage work-life balance (and our current four-year relocation to Florida, USA, with my husband's job). I write and edit copy for corporate websites and annual reports - trying to find stories which resonate with various stakeholders, including investors, employees, suppliers and NGOs. It's challenging, fun and helps people to communicate their business ideas more easily.
What do you know now that you didn’t in Year 13 that you’d like to share with current students?
I now know that there is no point worrying about not having a firm career plan or calling (I had neither) at this stage. Much more important is to have the belief in yourself to apply your skills and knowledge to opportunities that arise. You never know where these might take you, whom you might encounter along the way and how surprised you might be at what you can achieve when you are taken out of your comfort zone.