Interview with Rachel Woods

To mark our 15th year in business our founder Wayne Reynolds is interviewing a wide range of highly accomplished corporate affairs leaders about their experience and views of the function. This interview is with Rachel Woods who leads communications at the global energy company, bp.

Bio

Senior Vice President Communications, bp (current)

Head of Corporate Brand and Reputation, Fishburn Hedges (1997 to 2013)

What advice would you give to yourself 15 years ago?

To worry less, although in truth I’m still giving myself that advice today! In part it’s our job to worry on behalf of the organisation, but there’s a balance. If you’re inclined to worry about what could go wrong, which unfortunately I am, you need to learn to manage it. In my case, I try to spend a few moments on my journey home from work reflecting on what went well that day and less energy worrying about what could have been better.

How has corporate affairs changed over the last 15 years, and what do you expect next?

The pandemic changed the profile of internal communications and employee engagement massively and it’s great to see that its importance is here to stay. Social media has changed not only the speed of communications but also the tone. For example, what a financial journalist tweets during a results presentation may be different to what they subsequently write in print – but arguably no less important or impactful. But perhaps the biggest change is the expectation – from both inside and outside the organisation – for business leaders to comment on societal issues. What next, I really don’t know. The obvious answer is AI and tech, but we’ll have to wait and see.

What three skills does a modern-day corporate affairs director need?  And if you could pick only one, which would it be and why?

Number one, great judgement. There is rarely a right or wrong answer to what we do, and a typical day is made up of a whole series of micro judgements. You’ve got to use your experience to develop antennae for what’s what, from interpreting data effectively to anticipating how something might play out in the media. Secondly, perspective, being clear on what really matters and keeping things in context. And finally, sweating the small stuff, details are important and words matter. Having the ability to switch between the big picture and the small stuff and back again is crucial.

What do you love about the job?

It’s all about the team. I’m lucky to work with great colleagues who work hard for each other and the business and all with a great sense of humour. And Lola’s cupcakes!

If you didn’t work in corporate affairs, what would you do instead?

I come from a family of teachers and studied history at university, so I’d love to be a history teacher.

What was the last book you read?

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. It’s beautifully written and, importantly, short!

What would be your specialist subject on Mastermind?

Having read all seven books aloud, twice (once with each of my sons), Harry Potter.

What do you enjoy doing away from the office?

I love spending time hanging out with my husband and boys, these days that mostly that involves eating good food!

If you enjoyed this you may also like Wayne’s interviews with:

Caitlin Hayden, Group Communications Director at BAE Systems

Greg Dawson, Group Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at DS Smith

Lisa Tremble, Chief People, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Officer at British Airways

Louise Shield, Group Director of Corporate Affairs and Branding at M&G plc

Mark Henderson, Corporate Affairs Director at Wellcome

Matt Ridsdale, Group Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Sky

Rachel Hopcroft, Corporate Affairs Director at KPMG

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10th July 2024

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