Prevented from quitting her seventh form year in Auckland until she had a job, she used connections with her future boss’ son to secure her first job and it just happened to be in travel.
“I am an opportunist. I just hated being told what to do on a daily basis and being told to turn up at a certain time,” Thornton says.
Fast forward to the early 2000s during her OE in Sydney and it was another urgent need for a job that saw her land in the IT sector, with what was then Namlea Data Systems (NDS).
“The appeal was I needed to get a job fairly quickly. I’ve never been a saver and I applied for about 40 different jobs.” Thornton says she was looking for a franchise manager’s role due to her past experience, but “I was prepared to take whatever there was”.
Now that she’s been at D-Link for nearly seven years, Thornton wants to stay in the IT industry.
Although her technical expertise has grown, the chance to apply her people skills is the main attraction of the sector.
“I love working for D-Link because I enjoy the people I work with and the resellers you meet. I couldn’t stand to be in an office situation where you’re just dealing with pieces of paper and figures on a computer.”
Thornton says her relationship-building skills were transferable when she started out in IT.
“I enjoy people, and they will buy from you if they like you; it doesn’t matter what you’re selling.”
Although born in Hawkes Bay, Thornton moved to Auckland shortly before starting school.
That first travel job after leaving school was as a receptionist with the parent company of United Travel, a wholesaler. She progressed to become ticketing supervisor, using this experience to land a role with a branch of Were Travel in Auckland’s Newmarket.
Following this, she was hired by Travel Communications, working with the Multi Access Airline Reservation System software, used by Air New Zealand.
She says the travel agents around the country she had the job of training were wowed by the software, because it was Windows 2.0-based at a time when DOS was more prevalent in New Zealand.
However, the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991 began to put people off travelling, and prompted Thornton to change careers.
“People were really only buying their $399 tickets to Sydney and there was really no money to be made. A lot of us in Generation X had never lived through a war.”
In another opportunistic move, a visit to friends in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands, on the way to what was supposed to be an OE in London, turned into a stay of several months.
After a series of casual jobs in the Whitsundays, she returned to New Zealand for her mother’s wedding in 1993, and landed the Australasian franchise manager position with Contours Gym, which is exclusively for women.
The role required setting up gyms in Melbourne and Sydney and overseeing local franchises, as well as making sure the Contours brand was adhered to by franchise owners.
After four or five years there, Thornton felt it was time for a change. “I owned a branch for a time, the branches were running well and at a profit and I was looking for the next opportunity. There wasn’t a lot I could see Auckland could offer me, so I got a one-way ticket to Sydney.”
The frenetic four-day job search, which spanned a number of industries, resulted in the role at NDS, which is now called Cabac. The distributor provided more than 3500 products, including cables, hardware, cable testers and patch leads.
Thornton’s career at D-Link began in 2002, as the Sydney-based business development manager, focused on the education market.
She had to convince her future D-Link bosses she could oversee a fuller product range of networking gear to land the role. “But it’s all good and I’m still here today,” she says.
At the beginning of 2005, the New Zealand business was seeking someone to work with country manager Juliana Moss, who had already spent a year setting up the local office.
“I’d come over here to help Juliana with an education conference at the end of 2004 and saw heaps of opportunities in the New Zealand market, and just really enjoyed dealing with the New Zealand resellers.”
Thornton’s focus was on the corporate and education markets, with Moss’ emphasis being more on the consumer space.
She describes D-Link’s growth during her time with the firm as phenomenal, with revenue growing from $26 million to $90 million across Australasia since 2003. The trans-Tasman staff has also grown to 65.
Locally, the team now comprises Thornton, technology manager Andy Hill, in-store representative Bruce Ly and Karyn Fisher as consumer and SME business manager.
Thornton says this has given the New Zealand business opportunities to grow. “Having more people allows you more scope in the channels and more time to develop a business plan and a marketing plan. For the size of the country there are a lot of resellers, and when there’s only one or two of you, how do you do that?”
The growth has necessitated a more formal structure here, with Thornton providing country management and guidance to the New Zealand staff. “We’re a small team, but we’ve all got our key focuses and core competencies. I’ve been with D-Link a lot longer, so there needs to be some sort of guidance but on a day-to-day basis. As corporate business manager, I’m still out there looking for opportunities within the corporate sector.”
Getting out to the regions to visit D-Link partners keeps Thornton busy in her working life and doesn’t leave her much spare time. However, she and her partner bought a 1930s bungalow earlier this year, with DIY taking over her leisure time, too. “I just expected everything to work, but every week there has been a bill. It’s nothing major, but every fine weekend’s been out in the garden.”
Q + A
What is your favourite gadget?
What is your favourite website?
What is your favourite sport?
Although I don’t participate in yachting, my time in Valencia watching the last America’s Cup was a definite highlight.
What is your favourite cocktail?
If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
George Clooney and Rod Stewart – George for obvious reasons and Rod because I’m a big fan.
What has been the most important advance in technology?
Caller ID definitely has its advantages.
What book are you currently reading?
State of the Union by Douglas Kennedy.
If you were not in technology, what would you be doing?
Lying by a pool sipping Margaritas that George Clooney has prepared, while Rod Stewart belts out some tunes.
Who is/was your mentor?
No one in particular, but the teams I work with at D-Link, both regionally and internationally, have given me my inspiration and drive.