Rachel Smithson, General Manager of Animalcare UK, graduated from the Royal Veterinary College and began her career as a practising vet before switching to work in industry. Initially working as a technical vet, she subsequently moved into marketing and eventually management. She’s committed to self-development and is keen to ensure those still working their way up are able to prioritise work-life balance.

Please summarise your journey / biography:

I graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1997. After three years in companion animal and equine practice, I explored the options of a residency or an industry position. Ultimately, I made the choice to follow the commercial route and joined Merial Animal Health as a Tech Vet. I really enjoyed the mental stimulation the technical role provided, learning about new products and science.  During my time at Merial, I discovered the area I was most interested in was marketing; this motivated me to take further qualifications in this area and I began a Chartered Institute of Marketing course in my free time.

Once I gained this qualification, I successfully applied for the Frontline Product Manager role. I was familiar with this brand as its tech vet and had worked closely with the previous product manager. I understood the systems and processes and this provided a great platform for a smooth transition into the world of marketing.  

From there, I moved to the role of Marketing Manager at Novartis Animal Health, managing a team of three, and subsequently progressed to a global marketing role within the company.

Life events then led me to take an extended career break, and in 2016 I began working as a consultant for Animalcare on a part time basis, which allowed me to gradually return to work and, over time, take on more hours and become an employee.

I am now UK General Manager and over the past few years I have focused on two areas. First, aligning our systems and processes, drawing on my experience to improve efficiency and deliver results.  Secondly, I’ve been working to create a healthy company culture and make Animalcare UK a place people really love to work.

Describe your typical day from waking to sleeping:

With three ponies, two dogs and two children, life is hectic! I get up at 5.45am to take the dogs out and check on the ponies and ‘Alexa’ wakes the twins up in time for breakfast.

We leave the house at 7.15am for the twins to catch the bus to school. By 7.30am I’m back home and I either take the dogs for a walk or ride a pony.

At 8.15am I’m back in the house, having a coffee and starting work. A lot of my time is spent at my desk, in meetings and firefighting. I have a 30-minute lunch break around 12.30pm then I’m back at my desk. I have help with the horses, gardening and cleaning which allows me to focus on my work.

I usually work until around 5.30pm. The twins do clubs at school so when I pick them up from the bus stop it’s time for dinner, helping with their homework and some downtime before they’re off to bed at 8.30pm.

That then gives me an hour to deal with my life admin before bedtime and I go to bed at about 9.30pm where I’ll watch TV for a while before drifting off to sleep.

How would you describe yourself in a sentence?

Energised and organised, with a passion for lifelong learning.

How would others describe you in a sentence?

My son recently described me as his hero, which was lovely. His other descriptions were ‘works hard, encouraging and happy, independent, helpful and resilient.’

What has been your top success and what have you learned from this?

I’m happy that my career has been extremely fulfilling but my top success is what we’re doing now. It’s the first time I have the opportunity to really alter the future of a business. In previous roles I was able to influence the direction of a team or department whereas I am now working on a larger scale and have a bigger impact.

Initially, I’ve focused on rebuilding the team and developing our culture ready for a successful future.

Having brought the whole group into alignment and implemented common processes, systems and a growth mindset, we are at the start line of a very exciting time for the business.

What has been your biggest challenge, setback or failure and how have you overcome it? How did you grow or change as a result?

Coming back to work after my extended career break, the birth of my twins and a divorce was definitely a challenge and affected my own self-belief. I delayed my return to work after this and had to adjust to a lot of change and personal challenges before adding work back into the mix.

It was helpful to come back as a contractor in a phased approach, settling back in gradually by handling individual projects. This allowed me to come back to high performance levels in my own time and enabled me to schedule it around the twins until we found our new routine.

I slowly increased my work hours and level of responsibility over several years, mainly through stepping in to cover a role when there was a recruiting gap and saying yes to opportunities. The benefit is that I now have my career and my confidence back.

I’d encourage anyone who has a career break to come back with an open mindset and willingness to learn. In my case, the knowledge was still there and I gave myself the space and time to learn and get back up to speed.

“Having an interest outside work is essential to having a work-life balance – and exploring your passions and becoming a more well-rounded person will benefit you in all areas of your life.”

What compromises have you had to make and what, if anything, could have helped?

I see my career in two halves – pre and post career break.

Pre career break, I was uncompromising about work. My entire focus was on work to the point where I had tunnel vision, and I didn’t have a great work-life balance. I sacrificed life for the sake of my career.

Post career break, I am a more rounded individual which benefits everyone around me. I am keen to ensure that my team have a work-life balance and aren’t neglecting their personal lives for the sake of work. I believe we should focus on productivity, not number of hours worked, and turning up with a fresh, healthy mind definitely benefits output.

Looking back, what could have helped me is to have had a culture that didn’t value presenteeism and that questioned why we were working long hours every day.

I don’t believe I would be in the position I am in now had I not evolved into the person I am today. Company cultures are definitely moving forward to consider the health and wellbeing of employees; I’m happy to be involved in that and hope I can make a difference in a small way.

What advice would you have given to your younger self, that you would now give to others wanting to follow your path?

I would advise anyone looking to progress their career to ensure that they hold onto a hobby or an interest that gives them something outside work.

Having an interest outside work is essential to having a work-life balance – and exploring your passions and becoming a more well-rounded person will benefit you in all areas of your life.

I couldn’t have got where I am today without…

An inquisitive mind, a passion for lifelong learning and resilience. These have all been essential to helping me get to where I am today.

What are your three top likes?

Children, horses and dogs!

What are your three top dislikes?

Lack of self-awareness in people and a lack of care for the environment (especially in the small ways) really bother me.

The obsession with celebrity gossip is also mystifying – why people want to know every detail about people they don’t know baffles me!

What is the most helpful book you’ve read and why?

I can’t choose one!

The two books I have just read are Limitless by Jim Kwik and Inside Out by Charlie Unwin which have both been brilliant reads.

Limitless is about overcoming boundaries and teaches you how to learn while Inside Out has a more psychological approach, looking at how you can spend hours training in your chosen field and still not achieve under pressure; you need the right mindset and inner self to do so.

Many thanks to Rachel for sharing her story to inspire veterinary women to aspire and grow into their full career potential.

If you would like to share your story please get in touch at info@veterinarywoman.co.uk

For exclusive access to more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly newsletter

You may also like:

Veterinary Woman Role Model Profile: Tara Evans

Veterinary Woman Role Model: Suzie Armstrong

Chloé Hannigan – Veterinary Woman Role Model

Comments are closed.