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Five things that made me

How Annabel got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ shares stories of senior leaders at Deloitte. Here, we speak with Annabel Rake, our Global Olympic Marketing Leader and CMO for North and South Europe, as she looks back on the highs, the lows and the lessons learnt.

Meet Annabel

Annabel fell in love with brands early on. Impressed as you may be by her CV, her main driver was never the next grade, but the next interesting thing. From being the primary earner at home to learning when enough is enough, she’s challenged norms and opened doors for others – only now realising how many she inspired along the way. Here’s her story.

1. Back yourself

“I grew up an only child in a small town in Surrey. Home always felt very secure – my parents weren’t necessarily well off, but they were super supportive and I never lacked anything. My dad in particular had a strong work ethic for me and was very focused on making sure I made the most of school and university.

I wanted to be an architect at first, for the creativity and order of it all. I was good at maths and technical drawing, but free-hand drawing? Not so much, so I switched from graphic design to business studies during my A levels. Initially, I studied maths and business studies at university, but soon realised I was unlikely to use celestial physics in my job! So in my final year I switched to pure business studies.

For my industry placement, I got a role as a research executive at Nestlé. It brought my degree to life, looking at consumers, their behaviour and what makes them tick. I loved accompanying people to the supermarket to understand their decisions, why they would make purchases, how they would put their food away at home... I’m still curious about that human side now, whether that’s about how our clients make buying decisions, or the way I lead people and how they feel about things.

The placement was an amazing grounding in brand and brand management as well as how to work in a business. When I returned for my final year, I knew I wanted to be in marketing.”

“My parents’ backing and support gave me the confidence to trust my instincts and shape my own path. I still have the same confidence in the decisions I make today.”

2. Coming to life

“One of the great things about working in brand and marketing is that you get to see your work come to life. When I first joined Deloitte, I worked on an advertising campaign about the breadth of the firm’s services. We wrapped the IMAX with the Deloitte logo and “360 degrees” – that was all it said. I’ll never forget going round the IMAX roundabout on the bus that Monday morning.

In 2007, we became sponsors of the Olympic & Paralympic Games London 2012. And it would be an absolute game changer for our brand. I’d worked on the initial bid to become sponsors and put myself forward to take the project on full time. I was the sole person working on the marketing at first, then slowly began to build the team. I was so focused on making an impact that I hadn’t considered my career progression – but it turns out that my boss had noticed the impact, and she put me through the director promotion process.

That promotion gave me the increased scope to lead our sponsorship as well as our brand and corporate marketing teams. In 2014, I became the UK Chief Marketing Officer, leading a function of hundreds of people. I was 35. I knew what I was doing in brand and marketing, but in taking on many very senior and experienced people I definitely felt imposter syndrome.

In previous roles I’d known everyone in the team, their strengths and development areas, worked on shared projects with them. But when I took on the whole function, that changed. I quickly realised that everybody brings something, and I don’t have to be an expert in it all; my role is to figure out how to connect everyone so they can create great work together. That was what I was good at and where I really added value.”

Editor’s note: you can listen to Annabel talking about the power of brand on The Green Room podcast.

“As I progressed through my career, it was less about the title and more about finding the next interesting thing.”

3. Multifaceted

“I was promoted to partner during my first maternity leave (yes, it does happen). Becoming a partner wasn’t just about me – it demonstrated that the firm is invested in brand, marketing and our wider function. And I didn’t quite realise it at the time, but me making partner was significant for my wider team – especially for women – who didn’t think that that that was a possibility for them and now could see it was.

My husband, Toby, and I had moved to Yorkshire in 2014, and soon realised it would be quite challenging for us both to have senior roles which took us to London often and have a family. After a stint of shared parental leave when our son was born, Toby took redundancy from his role in the banking industry to become the primary carer for our first child. And although me being primary earner might be seen (unfortunately, still!) as an unstereotypical setup, it’s what works best for our lives together.

We’ve had a second child now, a daughter. Toby tells her I'm really good at my job, and ‘we have to let Mummy work because it pays for the house and the toys and the food we eat’. She thinks mummys work and daddys don’t. She has a real inner confidence and thinks she’s going to be amazing at whatever she does. That may be true of many four-year-olds, but I hope some part of that is because of what she sees and experiences at home.”

“You are a mum,’ my husband said, ‘and that's an amazing part of who you are, but you're also a leader. You're also a marketer. There are many facets to what makes you, you.”

4. Fill your cup

“During the pandemic, I worked harder than at any other point in my career. I didn’t share the load as much as I should have, and it got to a point where it needed to stop – I needed to take time off for my mental health. We had to cancel a department meeting, but I didn’t want to add anxiety in our team. So I decided to be open and email everyone in the department saying I needed to take a break.

It was the team email I got the most responses on, ever. People replied to check I was okay and to thank me for sharing, rather than just saying I wasn’t well. Somebody said they’d been struggling with their mental health and needed a break but felt like they couldn't take one, but, they said, ‘if you can do it, I can do it.’ It makes me quite emotional to remember this time.

I spoke with an NHS counsellor and learnt strategies to recognise and deal with my symptoms or triggers, so I don’t slip back to that place. A big learning for me was that I’m not in it alone – I can rely on others.

Now I know when I need to take time for myself, or time with my family. I know when I need to decompress. I know what gives me the energy I need too!

I might have three conflicting deadlines or a to-do list as long as my arm, but I won’t achieve any of it if I don’t approach it with a healthy attitude and great mental health. I can't be in the position that I’m in and not know when enough is enough.”

“I didn’t think about how my open and honest email would impact so many people. That experience brought it all into really sharp relief for me.”

5. Defining success

Now, things have come full circle – Deloitte recently announced a 10-year partnership with the International Olympic Committee, and I immediately knew I wanted to be involved. I have a blended role now – spending part of my time as Global Olympic Marketing Leader and part of my time as North South Europe CMO. It’s the perfect blend: I love my role, the teams I work with and the impact we can make in the market.

So for me, success doesn't have to be the number of people you lead or getting to a certain level or grade. Instead, it’s about doing what makes me tick. I genuinely want to come to work on a Monday, and get stuck in. And I’ve got a great team. One of the things I love about Deloitte is that there are some amazing people that I get to work with every day.

My final piece of advice would be to stay curious and seek out variety – it will lead you to interesting things. For me, it has afforded me real momentum in my career. It’s propelled me forward, helped me to move my teams forward, and move our brand forward – I’m always ambitious for what we can achieve! My other tip would be to choose carefully what you say yes to. If you want to make an impact in everything you do, make sure you’re able to give each role or project the right time and effort.

I feel really fortunate that I love my work and my home life. I’m really happy with where I am, and that’s the successful bit for me. Being a partner and all of those things aren’t unimportant of course, but they’re not my primary driver. And so, perhaps that’s just a different view of success.”

“I love what I do and the impact I can make. That’s the successful bit.”

Five things we learnt from Annabel

  1. Trust your decisions. They’re leading you on your path.
  2. If you want to do interesting work, stay curious.
  3. There are many parts to what makes you, you. Honour them.
  4. You can't pour from an empty cup – make time for you.
  5. Success is not a title. It’s loving what you do.

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