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The confidence to do things differently

Emma Parker ’96 is International Development Director and Joint CEO of Hyphen, a Greece-based publishing services company she set up with her husband in 2003. We caught up with Emma to talk about her company, the importance of education, and a determination to not so much think outside the box but to leave the box behind altogether.

In September 1990, Emma Parker jumped in her mum’s car and drove the 70 miles to Headington from her home in Salisbury. She had been going through a rocky patch in her final two years at school and had fallen short of the grades needed to study French at what was then Oxford Polytechnic. But she was determined not to miss out on the course she had set her heart on.

Emma waited outside John Carter’s office and when he arrived she set about explaining how important the course was to her and why she would make a great student. They talked for half an hour. And he was so impressed with Emma’s determination that although she could not join the course that year – it was already full – he gave her an unconditional offer to start the following September.

Willing to try new things

A bold and unconventional approach had worked, and this was something Emma feels made her and Oxford Brookes University – as the Polytechnic became in 1992 – an ideal fit.

“I think that attitude exemplifies what Brookes students are like,” she explains, “with a willingness to try new things and step outside what is familiar, and the confidence to go out into the world and do things that others might not dare to do.”

Emma enjoyed her time as a student – playing for the women’s rugby team and performing in musicals with the Fortune Players – but in many ways her most formative experience was her year abroad in Oxford’s French twin city, Grenoble.

“It’s a lovely city but the courses they put us on were really difficult! We were doing the same classes, like Politics, as the French students and of course they were all taught in French so it was very hard work for us. A few of us thought it would be a good idea to join the Drama class and that turned out to be the hardest thing of all – trying to be creative in a different language.

“It was good because those courses counted towards our degree so we didn’t feel we’d wasted a year just hanging out in a different country – and yes it was hard, but we learnt so much.”

Moving from Oxford to Greece

After graduating, Emma stayed on at Brookes and studied for a TEFL qualification. Teaching was not really her thing but she enjoyed elements of it, including devising teaching materials and making textbook content more interesting for students, which made educational publishing an ideal sector to move into.

Oxford was a good place to be for publishing jobs and Emma joined Heinemann Educational Publishing in North Oxford, as an Assistant Picture Editor – a job she describes as “a lot of fun” – before moving onto Macmillan Education in Cowley.

And it was while she was working for Macmillan that a serendipitous encounter changed Emma’s life.

“Macmillan sent me to Greece, to attend a conference and do some classroom observations. A local sales rep by the name of Yannis Stergis came to pick me up from the airport and take me round some schools. He is now my husband!”

Founding a publishing services company

Emma moved to Greece nine months later, learnt Greek, did some teaching and then set up a local publishing unit for Macmillan before, in 2003, founding Hyphen with Yannis.

“We offer publishing services to global publishers like OUP, CUP, Pearson, Macmillan, Burlington and Berlitz. Now we have grown to 25 full-time employees and are a healthy business.

“I do all the sales, which is the sort of work I never used to think I’d be able to do. But because of the sort of business it is, we mainly sell our services through word of mouth – if we do a good job then people hear about it.

“I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t had such a well-rounded, wide-based education. It gave me a lot of the skills I still use today. And when I interview someone, I’m looking for that spark, that willingness to learn, a sense of boldness to try something new and stretch themselves.”

Advice for overcoming self-doubt

It’s a spark Emma certainly has herself and believes Oxford Brookes helped to foster. But despite her success, Emma admits to experiencing self-doubt. Advice from a friend, also a publishing professional, has proved valuable to Emma and is worth heeding for anyone struggling with similar issues.

“I sometimes have this feeling, when I’m meeting a client or giving a presentation, that I’m an impostor. But my friend always says, ‘look at the things you’ve achieved – measure them in a tangible way – and you’ll see that you have as much right to be in that room and expressing your opinions as anyone else.’ And doing that gives me a real sense of self-belief.”

Emma is proud to be an Oxford Brookes alumna and, 29 years after talking her way onto her course, gave an inspiring speech at the launch event for our new partnership with Metropolitan College, Athens. The students there will be studying courses in healthcare, accounting, hospitality and technology – all areas crucial to the growth of the Greek economy. And as an example of what a Brookes alumna can go on to achieve, they have a great role-model in Emma.

Words: Sirius Gibson

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