Rachael Gibbens Q&A

Our newly-formed Business Advisory Board supports us in achieving transformational and innovative education. We speak to one of our board members, Rachael Gibbens, Vice-President of Product Sales and Advanced Offerings at Kongsberg. She has vast experience with complex cross-border issues, client relationship management, commercial, legal and sales. Rachael achieved her Postgraduate Diploma in Law and Legal Practice Course at our Guilford campus in 2005.

My company, Kongsberg, is a pioneering global technology partner. The company prides itself on delivering advanced solutions that improve safety, security and performance in complex operations and under extreme conditions.

The company has three business areas:  

  • Kongsberg Maritime, which is a leader within the offshore, subsea and merchant markets
  • Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, which is Norway’s premier supplier of defence and aerospace-related systems
  • Kongsberg Digital, through which the company aims to lead tomorrow’s digitalised industry.

I’ve had a very interesting career trajectory. I started out as a commercial property solicitor in London and worked in that industry for four years. I was made redundant in the global financial crisis in 2008, so I moved to Singapore where I worked as head of business development and marketing for Allen & Overy law firm. After working in that role for three years, I spotted an opportunity at Rolls-Royce in the marine business as commercial manager. This was a role sitting in the heart of the business and took me back closer to my legal background – i.e. negotiating contracts, handling disputes etc. I then took 6 months off work to have my twins, and on my return to work I was promoted to the global head of commercial for the entire marine business (c£700m business). I was then asked by my business to head up the Advanced Offerings sales and so I gladly took up the challenge, which led me to my current role.

An average day as Vice-President of Product Sales and Advanced Offerings at Kongsberg involves meeting customers, setting the strategic direction, understanding the market, liaising with my team to prepare technical presentations. Basically a tremendous amount of stakeholder management both internally and externally.

In my role I’ve learned to listen to the customer and time my response. Learn to be resilient - during my time in this new role, I started with one company (Rolls-Royce), and then during the course of 18 months, they sold our business to Kongsberg. At the time of writing this, I may even be moved into another role. So learning to accept uncertainty and constant change has been a very good skill to develop.

Attention to detail is always key and is something I definitely learned at law school. Also, managing a heavy workload and juggling many different things at once. Having the ability to look at the big picture and assess the risk against the reward (having a balanced but pragmatic view) would also be one of the skills I think I developed from law school.

It is a great honour and I am excited to work with the school to ultimately help the students on the Business School’s Advisory Board. I am also interested in the whole sphere of education and how it is going to need to change in the coming years with the fourth industrial revolution almost upon us. I think the timing is right for me, and I believe I have some interesting insights and perspectives to add to the board and the students.

The Business Advisory Board will help students gain a competitive advantage by giving them real-world experiences. Learning the world of theory in business is great and gaining a good education through a business degree etc is a very good start. However I think the Board will help students through our practical experience and passing that knowledge and understanding on will be key. 

I hope to bring my energy, drive, and the ability to think differently to the Business Advisory Board. I have had a varied career across multiple jurisdictions, which gives me quite a unique perspective on business. 

I don’t think there is a ‘cookie cutter’ template for a great business leader. It all depends on the type of business and the individuals within it. But a great business leader has the ability to adapt their style to others, to think on their feet and to evaluate the risk the team is taking while at the same time making bold decisions. A great leader should always empower others around them to excel and must always have integrity in everything they do.

I don’t think there is any one ‘main’ challenge for the next generation of business leaders. In the future there will be many challenges to overcome, often all at once. The world is becoming increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), so operating within this world is going to be tough. The challenges today within business are not just market driven, nor are they at a local level they are geopolitical and inter-correlated with macroeconomics more than ever – so navigating that world and having the ability to pivot within it quickly will determine those that thrive against those that don’t.

A business career is not going to be a traditional career. For example in the way our parents perhaps had with one company for many years. I am a good example of someone who has already had numerous career ‘switches’ due to circumstances outside of my control. Be open to change and be open to learning new skills. Never stop learning and upskilling. Read the book by Marshall Goldsmith ‘What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There’. It’s very good advice. Just because you have done X, Y or Z does not guarantee your success in the future, so continue to look for opportunities within business for yourself and to see how you can best thrive. 

The most important thing that business school students should be doing, outside the classroom is networking. Network all the time. Talk to lots and lots of people, ask them what they do, what it entails, listen and learn. 


  • Don’t stand still when it comes to learning – upskill yourself at every opportunity.
  • Read – a lot! Read everything and anything you can get your hands on – the news obviously, but read things going on in other sectors, and what’s ‘up and coming’ to keep yourself relevant.
  • Have a side ‘hustle’. If you have a passion for something and you have the funds, give your own business venture a crack. If it fails, you’ll learn from it, if it doesn’t then that’s fantastic.
  • Volunteer for opportunities – you never know where it will lead.

Find out more about our undergraduate and postgraduate business courses.