Rachel Kay


My career began with eight years in the travel and leisure industry, managing overseas operations across Europe and India for UK tour operators, which enabled me to gain a deep understanding of the way different cultures work. I then returned to the UK to run the learning and development function for a large online travel agent, which exposed me to the tangible benefits of people development, sparking a real interest in the link between L&D and organisational performance – the ability to increase employee motivation and achievement through great learning experiences. That has been a real driver for me ever since.

Having joined Thales Learning & Development 16 years ago, I have seen the organisation grow from a turnover of just £700k to over £11m, and been an integral part of that growth. Initially joining as a management consultant, I later moved into a Key Account Manager role to experience a different side of the businesses – where I was responsible for winning our first managed service contract, worth £1m – before running the cross-functional marketing/business development operation. I was subsequently promoted to Businesses Development Director before taking over as Managing Director last year.

Current role

I manage nearly 70 people across multiple sites, and one of my key responsibilities is ensuring L&D budgets are spent wisely. That means ensuring there is a good balance in terms of the type of learning we’re implementing. Compliance-led interventions are important, but it is equally important to give enough weight to the professional development side of L&D, looking at how we can develop talent and drive positive organisational change. I’m also tasked with developing the L&D strategy for Thales UK, and working across the globe to ensure Thales has a joined up L&D function internationally.

We are a commercial business operating in an extremely competitive market, where L&D budgets are largely stagnant, but as budgets become more free with the upturn in the economy – which we are now seeing happen – we can move towards more impactful interventions such as talent management and organisational transformation. To support that, I have to make sure my direct reports are properly equipped to enable their teams to do their job.

 With that in mind, our challenge for the future, for both internal and external customers, will be ensuring we’re effectively delivering against the 70:20:10 model, where only 10% of learning takes place in the classroom, with 70% focused on experiential elements. Such an approach would transform the way learning is developed and delivered, making it more about impactful experience than anything else.

What I like about working for TLD

In terms of what attracted me here in the first place – I had bought training from TLD while working for a previous employer, and having attended one of the programmes myself I was really impressed with the quality of delivery. I also wanted to be part of an organisation that solely focused on learning.

There is a huge amount of variety here from one day to the next. It is exciting to be able to work with both the internal Thales businesses and our wide range of external customers. It means we’re able to benchmark, innovate, and ultimately enhance the delivery of our service for the benefit of our clients.

I have to mention the teams, too. People seem to pick up a certain TLD ‘DNA’ from the moment they join. Every single person in the business is driven, extremely knowledgeable, and completely trustworthy. There is a strong sense of community here, with everyone striving to work together. The sheer commitment and professionalism of nearly 70 people pulling in the same direction is a pleasure to lead.


I have two children, so my hobbies are generally whatever their hobbies are. But when I have the time I enjoy theatre and film, and running to keep fit.