Currys’ Group Head of Strategy discussed her career on the Venari Podcast
‘I actually started life as a consultant and spent my first years coming out of university doing that,’ Rachel Goldberg notes. ‘It was fantastic.’ Over the course of an impressive career that has encompassed stints both in consulting as well as in many household names in retail prior to her current role as Group Head of Strategy at Currys, Rachel has amassed a wealth of experience in large-scale strategy and transformation projects. She spoke to Mhairi Geraghty, our Senior Interim Solutions Consultant, on the Venari Podcast, where they discussed the differences between industry and consulting, as well as the benefits – and challenges – of moving between these fields.
Rachel notes that her early experience as a consultant gave her ‘a helicopter view of different aspects of business’. She came to specialise in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sphere, but before long she came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for her: ‘I realised that I was modelling something called a pallet, and I didn’t know what a pallet was,’ she admits. This provided the springboard for Rachel to move into industry, first at Tesco and then at Marks & Spencer, roles that took in project management, factory and warehouse operations, and supply chain logistics. The early stages of her career in industry saw Rachel attempting to get her head around the just-in-time nature of grocery supply chains. Seeing food come in from all over the world to one store location on schedule ‘was amazing. I couldn’t quite figure out how it worked.’
Transitioning from consulting to industry – and back again
After starting a family during her time at M&S, Rachel moved back into consulting for a brief period before returning to industry. Her time between these two sectors has given her ample knowledge of both – though the process has not been without its challenges, particularly the first time around. When Rachel first made the transition at the beginning of her career, she realised that a consulting background means ‘you have a lot to bring to the table to industry: you’ve got your analytical skills, your problem-solving skills, which actually can add a tremendous amount of value in an industry environment.’
Still, learning when and how to complete tasks in retail – and, as Rachel puts it, ‘who to go to, who to speak to’ in order to enact change – was a learning curve that took her around a year to become comfortable with. Saying that, it was a valuable, fulfilling process which served Rachel well when she moved back to industry from consulting a second time, to an interim role at Debenhams. By that point, she was already more than familiar with ‘what it was like to work in an industry; I already knew how to find my way around, how to collaborate, how to work with people, how to get things done’.
Pros and cons
For Rachel, what she calls ‘the big pull’ of working in industry is the chance of seeing your projects come change and come together – something that consulting doesn’t offer in the same way. There, ‘you are a transient person, you’re providing advice and that advice may or may not be taken on board’, she notes. ‘And you may not be there to see it come to fruition.’ The feelings of achievement and satisfaction have been the primary motivators for Rachel to stay in the retail space – though she admits that consulting has its advantages, too. One is the ability to learn and expand your knowledge quickly, not to mention the more clearly delineated career path. Progressing in consulting is easier than in industry, where ‘it’s much harder to get those very broad experiences that get you up the learning ladder very quickly. You often have to spend much more time in a specific role.’ Furthermore, your interactions with – and how you present yourself to – stakeholders is much more pressing in industry than in consulting; navigating between different functions and career paths is, as Rachel puts it, ‘opaque’.
Recipe for success
The relative difficulties of advancing in retail as opposed to consulting have not stopped Rachel in her rise to the top – so what does she advise for people looking to emulate her success? Selecting your roles carefully is key – choosing something that you think you’ll enjoy, learn a lot, and have opportunities to put yourself outside your comfort zone, will always provide better avenues for progression.
Still, this is only part of the puzzle. What skills are needed for a long and successful career in this area? For Rachel, it all depends on your strengths and weaknesses, and identifying what you need to improve. She admits that she had to focus on learning to work with different stakeholders and how to come across more effectively in important meetings. Resilience is a key asset: it will help you ‘to navigate the challenges and the bumps in the road that you’ll inevitably face and how to have resilience when those things do come up.’
Balancing personal and professional life
Work-life balance is an increasingly important subject in working life – one that can be all too easily neglected in the face of high-pressure, time-intensive roles like Rachel’s. ‘I think it’s challenging for anyone, whatever stage of life you’re at, whatever career you’re in,’ she admits. ‘I’m sure everyone has challenges or things going on in their personal life that can intervene or impact on their day-to-day life.’
To counteract potential problems, Rachel recommends being as organised as possible and making sure you have the support you need, both at work and at home. Often, that might mean outsourcing tasks; ‘for me, it’s about being really clear and protective of your time’, she says. ‘When you’ve got busy work and a busy life, I think it’s very often easy to forget about yourself.’
As such, Rachel advocates for setting aside time each day to do something for yourself, affording you the headspace needed to recuperate and come back stronger the following day. This is important to pre-empt and avoid another topic that is all too common in the working world: burnout. As well as dedicating time for yourself, Rachel swears by the time-honoured strategy of time management: ‘quality versus quantity.’ She’s had plenty of exposure to different working styles over the years, and has learned that the best leaders ‘are the ones that realise that you don’t need to produce a 100-slide PowerPoint deck, that sometimes you don’t need to put in extraordinarily long hours or amounts of work. What is important is being effective and getting to the nub of the challenge [...] and being very judicious about your time and about the quality of what you want to do. Sometimes less is more.’