Inspirational Woman: Rachel King | General Manager, Breathe UK

Meet Rachel King

General Manager, Breathe UK

Rachel joined Breathe at the beginning, in 2012, and started out in the marketing team, quickly progressing to head up the marketing division. Earlier this year, Rachel was promoted to become Breathe’s UK General Manager and took on leading the UK.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I come from a marketing background, which is really important in supporting my current role as General Manager for Breathe UK. I’ve been part of the business for over 10 years now and have been a central part of the scaling process, so it felt like a natural next step for me to represent the brand by stepping into this role and handling a broader remit.

Back when I first joined, I was responsible for not only marketing but a bit of everything – when a company is in its nascent stages you tend to cover a wide range of tasks. SME life means each employee wears many hats and pitches in with things outside the confines of their job description. That’s why it’s so familiar to me, what I’m doing every day. I have a passion for small businesses, and Breathe has been one until very recently, so that means I have first-hand knowledge of the joys and challenges.

Now, though, I get to meet my Australian counterparts at ELMO and work with a global team in this next chapter for Breathe. Many of the skills I’ve garnered over time in marketing and operations speak well to this position as General Manager, which is ideal and gives me confidence that I’m the right person for the job. Our marketing strategy is very disciplined – every activity we implement is carefully planned and measured and always has been. My aim is to ensure this is how all areas of the business run, too.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I would say that the world of SaaS definitely chose me, it wasn’t my original intention to break into the tech industry, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My background is in financial services which gave me a solid footing in marketing and business strategy. I thrive in fast-paced environments, so that’s why small business life called to me – and when the opportunity to join Breathe came up, I jumped on it.

It’s great to have an idea of where you want to go in life, but in truth it’s very hard to predict what kind of journey your career will take. What’s important is understanding your strengths and interests, and focusing your energy on developing skills that align to them. I’m fortunate because I have worked with some fantastic people over the years who have shaped how I work and handle myself in business.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Absolutely. For most people I’m sure the pandemic was extremely challenging, and for those in charge of running a business and / or team there was an even greater pressure on maintaining peoples’ livelihoods and looking after them under extremely difficult circumstances. It’s a heavy weight on your shoulders knowing you must continue to lead and support people throughout the chaos. It can be really difficult to balance what’s best for your people and simultaneously what’s best for the business. However, it’s worth remembering that challenges will continually present themselves throughout your life and career. Making it this far has involved staying strong and resilient on a personal level, it’s meant I’ve had to make tough decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My greatest professional achievement has to be the move to General Manager. Like I said, I’ve been central to Breathe’s growth journey so far and it feels so good to have watched the business grow and eventually reach the stage it’s at now. It’s fascinating to be an ongoing part of a growing organisation – what keeps it successful is undoubtedly the positive culture and respect people show each other at work. It seems obvious, but when people are happy at work they’re more productive. That’s why it makes sense from a business perspective to ensure the culture is supportive, flexible and transparent. These aren’t just buzzwords – they are real concepts that have worked for us and continue to. I’m proud to say that we have created a community that works towards supporting small businesses and HR professionals help the people who make success a reality.

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What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think it has been the fact that I’ve really focused on what I’m good at, and have looked at everything through this lens. It’s one thing to know and understand your strengths, but backing yourself to speak up and assert your opinions and viewpoints in a business setting doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I have worked on it over time, and I think it’s incredibly important to realise that your voice can make a difference, so can your ideas, and being able to communicate them effectively can mean that people get behind you and trust you moving forward. A major factor in my success has been the support from my colleagues, friends and family who have been with me throughout it all.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m incredibly passionate about what I do and enjoy sharing that passion with other people in the industry. I’ve had fantastic mentors throughout my career and am also lucky enough to mentor some wonderful people. Being able to share learnings with the people you mentor is a privilege and something I enjoy.

For me, there are only benefits to mentoring and I think it’s an area that people in business – especially women – can sometimes forget to ask for. By helping the next generation learn from my mistake and triumphs, we can continue to thrive.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

That’s a big question with no straight answer. But I do think the pace of change could be increased by creating more publicity around female role models and making sure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute positively to society. That could be through work, but not limited to the world of business. There’s still an imbalance when it comes to confidence and communicating your worth in line with salary and title promotions. The solution isn’t clear, but providing more opportunities for personal development and growth, women and non-binary employees have a better chance of levelling the playing field. To challenge deep-rooted biases, people should aim to bring their authentic self to everything they do and speak up as much as they can, making their voice heard. This could help speed up change.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Believe in yourself, keep learning and don’t be afraid to share your voice.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

For me, continuing to lead and build a fantastic brand like Breathe is the goal. There’s still so much value we can provide through our research and product, which genuinely help people work and live well. My aim will be to empower people and equip businesses with insights and software that they can use to reduce admin and give people time back for more strategic tasks. Keeping a firm eye on culture, I’d love to achieve even more visibility for the HR professionals, especially in small businesses, who are concerned with keeping a pulse check on company culture.

What are your thoughts on the current state of recruitment?

Right now the market is in flux. The economy is turbulent and it’s having a direct impact on business behaviour when it comes to recruitment. For many, it can be a real challenge to find and hire the right people. There have been many culture shifts as a result of peoples’ attitudes changing towards work following lockdowns, like The Great Reshuffle. It’s a talent-dominated market, so prospective employees have many positions to choose from on their job hunt. Now, it’s more than salary that concerns people – that means there’s more emphasis on benefits such as flexibility and health insurance. Businesses need to make sure they are taking a good look at their culture and benefits if they hope to attract and retain the best minds.

How should employers best approach bridging the workplace generation gap?

It’s so important to have a broad cross-section of generations working for a company. The more senior members of an organisation have years of experience and industry knowledge that should be shared with the younger cohort. Making sure junior staff are exposed to this kind of seniority is vital for workplace culture.

The gap has worsened due to covid, many over 50s have left the workforce and haven’t returned which is resulting in a big change in the composition of many businesses. The economically active younger generations remain a big part of business but in order for them to thrive, employers should promote mentoring and encourage people to work together across teams and functions.

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