Emma Cooke - Head of Citizenship, Herbert Smith Freehills

Emma's journey into CRS started with an IPO, and a dose of chance. Having set up a CRS programme from scratch in a previous role, her transition from Marketing to CRS was complete. A fan of lifelong learning, her gaze is on long-term, macro impacts through frameworks such as the SDGs; as well as indulging her creative side.

ICRS membership level: Organisational member

How did you get into CRS, and why?

A mixture of luck, perseverance and staying true to myself. I had moved from a village on the outskirts of Bath to the big City for a role at Xchanging, a large BPO (business process outsourcer), on their new graduate training programme. However, I quickly became disillusioned that my values were not aligned with the company's, they weren't even doing the basics of recycling or donating to charities and I began to question why I had moved and what I was doing. While I was in my marketing seat I began developing the business case for why we should establish a CSR programme. As a small pool of graduates we had good access to the CEO and founder and I would often talk about the work I was doing with him.

When Xchanging floated on the London Stock Exchange it went straight in the FTSE350, and shortly afterwards The Observer wrote an article on the Ethical Dunces of the FTSE350. To my delight and the CEO's horror Xchanging was ranked at the bottom! That same week the CEO who knew that I was passionate about this topic asked me to establish our CSR programme. I started working on it 1 day a week and built my role up to become the Group Head of CSR with a team and sizable budget over three years. I still have that newspaper article at home along with my first CSR report.


What is a typical day in your current role?

There isn't one! My role as Head of Citizenship at Herbert Smith Freehills covers our work in the Community, Sustainability and Responsible Business practices across all our 27 offices in 19 countries. My day can start with an early morning phone call with the team in Sydney, attending a breakfast briefing event or heading to the office to start the day. Of course, a typical day or week would also include regular catch ups with the team, meetings with charity partners, and speaking to our champions in offices across the network.


Which skills do you want to develop?

I have recently started a part-time Executive MBA at Cranfield University, and having spent most of my working life in CRS roles I can see the risks and opportunities that the Sustainable Development Goals pose to business. For me, developing the business acumen required to embed CRS into the fabric of business is a key development area for me over the next five years.


If you didn’t work in CRS, what would you do? 

I'd own and run a pottery studio which serves cake on wonky plates and tea in mugs which have a certain rustic charm. I took up evening pottery classes a couple of years ago to do something completely different with my evenings. It's now an important part of my life, the studio is a place where I can completely switch off and reconnect with my creative side.


What are your favourite parts of your role?

My favourite part of my role is the excitement when a new idea or project comes together and hearing the stories about the impact we are having. I also have a wonderful team who make working fun and enjoyable. I probably don't tell them often enough how proud I am of them. The least favourite is saying no, which I have to do a lot! There are so many charities and opportunities that come across my desk and I have to be very selective about where we can support.


What do you think are the most important skills for working in CRS?

The ability to cope with change. When I look back at my career there is not a year that goes by where there hasn't been significant change, be that new team members, structural changes, brand changes, or developing new programmes and opportunities – if you are not comfortable with change, this might not be the career path for you. The others would be patience and tenacity to keep going and don't let a knock back or someone who doesn't get what you are trying to achieve stand in your way. Some of my breakthrough moments have been finally winning people around to understanding the CRS business case and getting them on board – sometimes this takes a long time through a multi channelled approach!

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