If Rachel Charlton was CEO for the day, she would switch the roles of the CDC’ers (Graduates) and the Executive team.
Rachel is a Vice President at Capgemini Consulting, leading the Business Model Transformation practice, and is the Public Sector market head. She has worked in Government, Utilities, Retail, Private Equity, Waste Management and Legal, yet she holds that no matter how much experience someone may hold on their CV it is diversity within a team that leads to success. A diverse range of personalities in a team will generate the best ideas, recognise the most effective decisions and will lead to real long lasting organisation transformation. In my interview with Rachel, she speaks about building her career, her love of cycling and how CCUK’s success is a result of nurturing its diverse workforce.
GS- What was your first job?
RC- My very first job was working for Burberry on their graduate training programme. I did marketing, sales and on my last rotation I was in their IT function, where I worked with Deloitte. That was when I started to make the leap into consulting. I then moved to, what was at the time, Gemini Consulting, to the equivalent of our BTI (Business and Technology Innovation) -practice.
GS- What led you to Technology Consulting and did it match your expectations?
RC- My role at Burberry was interesting because they were undergoing a huge transformation at the time. They brought in an American CEO, Rosemary Bravo, to completely transform the brand. In order to transform the brand she overhauled the technology that they were using to digitise their design work. They were taking designs from hand held drawings, putting them onto CAD [computer-aided design] systems, and developing the design books that were released every quarter and they were producing those electronically. So I ran the programme to implement the new system to be able to do that. That was probably the first time I’d recognised that technology underpinned all businesses and business transformation. And the reason I liked the group that I joined in Gemini is that it sat firmly in bringing the technology and business together and that was just fascinating work.
I wanted to go into consulting because I really liked the variety of work that it was going to offer me. I didn’t want to do just one role in one organisation, I wanted to experience working in lots of different locations and I wanted to build a breadth of skills that allowed me to end up being effectively a CXO one day; I thought consulting would be a good place to do that. I’ve had masses and masses of experience, worked in big teams, small teams, done strategy work, huge implementations and seen real business transformation.
It is fascinating. It makes it very challenging though because I think I now have a very short attention span in terms of being able to do anything else that isn’t quite as on fire, as high pace and high intensity as transformation is! If you like that then it’s pretty good.
GS- How did you achieve VP- was that always the aim?
RC- Yes, I always knew that if I was going to stay in consulting that I wanted to be VP, that was absolutely the goal. I wasn’t driven solely by that, but I knew that I was going to keep going through the promotions to get there. In order to do that I had to work out my path and the types of work that I wanted to do, but most importantly the types of people that I wanted to work with who I knew would help me achieve my goal.
Also, what I think is really important is to back yourself. Take the sort of Sheryl Sandberg ‘Lean In’ metaphor, you absolutely have to back yourself and be confident that a) You want this- be this VP or any level - and b) You are good enough to get it.
I think in business - and I don’t think it changes anywhere else but especially in our organisation - you have to have the desire, you have to have the drive and you have to believe that you are good enough to do it. And we are looking for people who can do that.
You might be quiet, you might be really extrovert. I truly believe there isn’t a single type of person but there are attributes - that desire, drive and belief that I mentioned - that mean you can get there. And I think that’s what Capgemini is very good at, at saying that if you can demonstrate ability you can be anyone you want to be in this business because we believe you’ll succeed.
GS- So you mentioned Sheryl Sandberg- would you say she’s a role model?
RC- Oh Christrine Lagarde is my absolute favourite female leader, I think she’s phenomenal. But actually I draw a huge amount of experience and learning and motivation from people who work with me. That whole notion of reverse coaching, I would much rather that the team I was with were teaching me so we’re learning together. Role models exist at all levels of the organisation. It’s about how we nurture and bring people through as role models and make you as individuals feel like you can achieve what you want to achieve and that it’s ok to say that it’s not working out for you, that’s fine. I stay doing this because I love working in teams. I don’t think I’d be any good if I had to go and sit by myself somewhere to do it. That just doesn’t motivate me at all. I don’t think I’d get out of bed if I had to do that actually. I hope in some ways I give inspiration to other people in the organisation, because they give it to me and they teach me things and I think that’s how we transform the ways of business.
GS- On the back of your extensive work with government- if you were PM and you could change anything in the country, with unlimited powers for one day- what would you do?
RC- If I could change anything? I would try and get rid of any gender pay gap discrimination. In fact I would ensure more variation in the workplace generally, not just gender, but the existence of true variety. I’m horrified by the lack of women at FTSE 100 board level, but also the lack of diversity within organisations and the tendency to recruit in our same image. This leads to an underutilisation of talent in organisations and does not breed innovation or innovative thinking.
GS- How do you think that could happen?
RC- I don’t think it’s about quotas, but it is about ensuring that there is that mandate to ensure change and encourage everyone to think about how they behave and react to diversity and bias. What often happens is that people will just move between jobs rather than there being real fluidity and development opportunities to allow individuals to release their talents, after all we all have different talents and it’s about how we get the chance to use and develop them. I like the reverse approach that says don’t just move senior people between senior posts, move bottom to top. Start people at the bottom of the organisation running the organisation. I’m not sure if I was PM if that would work, but if I was CEO for the day I would let the CDC run the business. You should do that!
GS- And what makes you happy outside work?
RC- If I gave up work tomorrow I would divide my time between spending my winter skiing in British Columbia, and I would do a combination of road biking and mountain biking. I’d road bike in Europe and probably mountain bike in Utah.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this! I’d quite like to have a sailing boat in the south of France to sail around there. I basically would do a lot of physical activity. What else would I do… there’s lots of things I’d love to do. I’d quite like to take up photography… Brilliant… None of it involves real work whatsoever!
GS- Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your career, or advice to graduates today?
RC- In my 16 years with Capgemini I have always found them to be a very supportive organisation. I hope that we encourage everyone in a way that doesn’t make you feel that you’re being singled out in any shape or form. And I think you can be enormously successful here without having to change who you are. The important thing for me here is that without having to change who I am I can be successful at Capgemini; I find this to be true the more senior I get, I find it globally, and I find it across business units. I haven’t come across any environment where I think that I feel uncomfortable, or marginalised, or discriminated against. It’s really wonderful in terms of that. There is a behaviour, there is a culture, and there is an acceptance about making it a nice place for everyone to work. For a successful business you need a balance of people because we make decisions in different ways, and that is psychologically proven, that is how it balances out.