A Bold Strategy for a Bold Company

As SVP and CHRO for Mercury Systems, Emma Woodthorpe helps bring in and retain the best minds in engineering and technology

Mercury Systems has pioneered the production of some of the most crucial pieces of defense electronics. The Andover, Massachusetts-based organization’s secure sensor and safety-critical processing subsystems are utilized by a variety of defense, intelligence, and aerospace programs. In order to ensure it remains at the cutting edge and provides essential value for sensitive industries, Mercury Systems needs to recruit and retain the highest quality employees in the incredibly competitive technology sphere. As senior vice president and chief human resources officer, Emma Woodthorpe helps drive a strategy for Mercury Systems that brings all of that top-tier talent together.

Woodthorpe began her career after earning a business degree in her native England. After developing experience and building a knowledge base in other fields, she learned that her passion truly lay in building strategy and culture, hiring the right people, and then watching as they thrive and drive the business. In 2000, she was lured to the United States, taking on her first technology-focused role with Silicon Valley-based Display Research Laboratories. There she played a role in the full life cycle of a company—Woodthorpe came in as the fifth employee in the start-up, hired a full workforce leading up to the dot-com crash, and then had to lay off employees until the company closed two years later. From there, Woodthorpe moved on to a role at industrial giant Dupont, developing more experience in acquisition strategy and integration.

After a stop at water-focused technology organization Xylem, Woodthorpe took on her first CHRO role, joining Mercury Systems in 2016. The organization offered intense new challenges—it’s currently in a high-growth phase, doubling size in the last two years, including revenue, profitability, market cap, and stock price. It’s also made seven acquisitions in the last two years, and fell at number twenty-seven on Fortune’s list of the fastest-growing companies. With all of that growth in capital and demand, of course, comes an extreme growth in personnel; Mercury Systems has also doubled its employee total in that same stretch of time.

To be able to keep up with that rapid change, Woodthorpe and the rest of Mercury Systems’ leadership team needs to build a proactive HR strategy, constantly building for the future and anticipating upcoming roadblocks as much as possible. But equally key is developing a culture that can also proactively bring together the vast span of talent spread throughout the organization. Woodthorpe took on that massive challenge boldly, confident because she knew that she had an incredible team supporting her. “I realized that aspiration was possible with Mercury a year ago and then built what is quickly becoming one of the best HR teams I have ever worked with,” she said in a post on the company’s website. “Seeing the impact they are having on Mercury has made me very proud.”

“It’s essential that I can rely on my colleagues to have my back because otherwise, I wouldn’t be successful,” Brian Sutton, senior manager of embedded systems engineering, explained in a recent post on Mercury Systems’ LinkedIn page. In an organization with needs spanning engineering, computer science, and other highly technical spaces, building trust and reinforcing teamwork is paramount.

Mercury Systems’ recruitment efforts include participation in microelectronics boot camps and career fairs in the revered academic institutions in the surrounding Massachusetts area. Mercury System representatives are also mainstays at conferences such as those run by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. At these and other events, Mercury Systems recruiters draw in top-tier talent by extolling the organization’s unique position within the defense industrial base and the opportunity to tackle some of the world’s most innovative technologies.

In addition to teamwork, Mercury Systems provides a gratifying workplace through a commitment to offering opportunities for learning, growth, and enrichment—both personal and professional. The organization’s mission of supporting American troops manifests in corporate activities, while leadership also organizes blood drives and other charity events. The other core values shared throughout the culture include working with integrity, a sense of urgency, and a focus on the customer. The spectrum all comes together in a commitment to bringing the entire Mercury Systems community into a sense of unity.

The organization’s dedication to diversity helps add to its deep talent pool, tapping into often overlooked groups to provide new perspectives and leadership. Mercury Systems’ focus on women in leadership is particularly strong, as they highlight seven director and executive-level women leaders on a dedicated page on the company website, hoping to inspire further women into leadership positions.

Despite all of the recent successes in recruiting and retaining talent at Mercury Systems, Woodthorpe is continuing her proactive streak and already looking to the future of the organization. In a recent post on the company’s website, she has committed herself to a goal of continuing to drive growth and focus further on women in leadership and engineering. “Mercury is a fantastic company that I think can provide wonderful opportunities for young women and we need to help show that internally and externally,” she says. And as in her leadership values for the entire organization, Woodthorpe also remains determined to grow and develop new strengths in her own career. “I am a great believer in always continuing to learn…I aim to continue that, as it has been a big part of my journey in getting to this role and will continue to be,” she says.