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Five things that made me

How Rachel got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ explores compelling stories of human leadership as we speak to senior role models within the firm. Every month, we get under the skin of a different leader to find out how they got to where they are now. First up, we speak with Rachel Austin, a tax director based in London.

Meet Rachel

She was the first person in her family to go to university. Her career kicked off with a high-profile secondment with the government. We talked about the moment she handed in her resignation, and how she designed her dream role. She inspired us with her varied career – and everything she still has to give.

1. Sights set high

“I grew up just outside Liverpool in a working class family. At school I discovered I had a talent for maths. I loved how everything had a logical answer.

I was the first person in my family to go to university. My maths teachers supported me with the Cambridge entrance exams. I did a maths degree at Girton College and met so many interesting people. It was a great place to be.”

“I remember my mum saying she never dreamed that her children would end up going to university. Actually, I never thought that I wouldn’t.“

2. Goodbye comfort zone

“I wasn’t sure about the next step after university. I took a year out to work in a ski resort and travel around Europe. I decided I wanted to work in tax and started at Deloitte in 1997 along with 50 other graduates.

You could always ask people around you for support. We all learnt from each other. The partner leading my team, who only just retired last year, has always been a mentor to me.

Five years into my career, I did a secondment at the Treasury as head of business tax policy. It helped me understand the wider economic and policy aspects of tax. I also learnt how to explain complex tax concepts to people with a non-technical background. Stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy, but it always pays off.”

3. The summer that changed everything

“When my youngest started school, my working pattern didn’t feel right anymore. I was already working at 80% and didn’t dare to ask for more flexibility. I was actually going to leave Deloitte and handed in my resignation.

My plan was to volunteer for tax charities and work with schools. But a few partners took the time to speak with me. I took the summer off to think about what I wanted.

After I returned, an opportunity came up to lead the tax volunteering programme. It was my dream role without having to leave Deloitte. And I was free to choose my working pattern, so I now work three days a week, term time only.”

“They asked: isn’t there something we can do?“

4. Rise by lifting others

“My work focuses on improving tax and financial awareness through our Because Tax Matters initiative, which harnesses the skills of our tax experts to support charities and schools. I love being able to make a real difference for people – and hearing the stories of our volunteers. It’s amazing to see how helping others helps us too.

One student at the City of London Academy in Islington, where we run workshops on financial education, will always stay with me. He had his head buried in his arms on the table. ‘There’s no point in me doing this, Miss,’ he said. ‘I’m just going to end up in prison.’

We spent some time together focusing on what he enjoyed. Turns out he loved animals. The last session of the day was about designing a business idea. The boy came up with a pet grooming and dog walking business. I’ll never forget the moment he stood up and presented his business plan.

5. You’re not one career

“You’ll have times where your career is the main focus in your life, and times where you have other priorities. It’s okay to work at different rates and try out different things.

We’re all going to be working much longer. I’ve loved my career so far and done so many different things within one organisation. I might be working part-time now, but I’ve still got 20 years of career ahead of me – and a lot more to achieve.

Looking back I would tell myself to be more confident and not doubt myself. I didn’t know what I could achieve. But if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything you want.

Things we learnt from Rachel

  1. Just because others around you didn’t doesn’t mean you can’t
  2. Stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy but it always pays off
  3. If you could design your dream job, what would it look like?
  4. Helping others helps us. Always
  5. You’re not one career. There’s more than one path for everyone

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