Developing your career beyond HR? Kathryn Austin, Chief People and Marketing Officer at Pizza Hut

Developing your career beyond HR? Kathryn Austin, Chief People and Marketing Officer at Pizza Hut
Published: 5 November 2019

In the third of our ‘developing your career beyond HR’ series, Amelia Black, Consultant in Berwick Partners’ HR Practice, speaks to Kathryn Austin, Chief People and Marketing Officer at Pizza Hut Restaurants, about how she heads up two functions, the dynamic between them and how effectively they work together.

Kathryn, could you please give us an introduction to your background and explain when you took on responsibility for marketing?

After starting my career on the British Airways Management Programme, I moved to financial services, working for Barclays and subsequently Lloyds. I left the sector to return to hospitality, joining YUM! Brands (of which Pizza Hut is part) in 2010 as a VP HR.  In 2012 I decided to become a private equity backed franchisee/owner of the UK restaurant business and then became responsible for both HR and the marketing function.

What was the planned impact to the marketing function from your leadership?

After I joined, there was a major transformation agenda at Pizza Hut which coincided with a paradigm shift in the world of marketing. As a result, we were open to exploring everything, and were ahead of our time in adopting digital/social media and moving our focus away from more traditional forms of advertising. With my HR hat on, my assessment of what was required to be a successful CMO in our context was not previous experience but skills far more akin to HR - being able to ask questions, finding the right talent and managing change. I therefore took on the challenge. In my personal life I am still rubbish with technology which is great as it keeps me humble, looking for fresh thinking and listening hard to my team.

What successes have you had for both functions and what have you found that works well for both teams?

Both functions are brand leaders so there is actually a lot of natural cross-over. On a structural level I created a few bridging roles that sit in between Marketing and HR, and this has really strengthened internal and external communications.  I also feel that I have helped to shift the mindset of the marketing team to make sure that it truly understands things from a customer and employee point of view, and HR has far more of a direct line to sales and commercial accountability. Incidentally, as we know, HR has now also undergone its own digital revolution and our marketing experts have helped with that transition. 

What similarities are there between the functions?

To make a difference, both Marketing and HR need to be highly creative, understand business psychology and be experts in change management. Neither function can work in isolation, to launch a new product or service in our business you have to fully understand both the customer and our employees. To be a great Marketer or HR expert I also think you need to share a similar forward thinking, constructive, challenger mind-set – both areas have to challenge the status-quo to drive performance.

What were the toughest lessons in adopting Marketing as part of your remit?

It was a great lesson for me to be ‘out of control’. In HR we talk a lot about empowerment but also have the tendency to be control freaks, so taking on a function where I had to rely on others rather than trying to fix everything myself was brilliant leadership development. My time management and prioritisation has improved a lot and also adopting marketing has given me far more commercial accountability and understanding of how seemingly small decisions can make big differences to the bottom line. 

Do you see yourself as a trendsetter and that other organisations will follow suit? Or is it just circumstantial and for other organisations Marketing and HR will continue to be separate?

I see far more dual leadership roles including the combination of HR and Marketing, and I think it is a very healthy development.  As you get more senior it really does become less about your experience and task level contribution and more about your strategic thinking and leadership. I think it is particularly powerful for HR leaders to own more than one agenda as it dispels some of the myths of HR and provides a develop pathway for HR leaders to become CEOs. Internally most of our senior positions now have a combination of responsibilities, for example Supply Chain and IT, and at an organisational level it has really helped us to remove silo-led internal politics. We are developing a set of leaders with a much broader and more balanced understanding of the impact of business decisions and a culture where we are all ‘in it together’.

With employers increasingly focussing on ensuring there is alignment between their internal and external brands Kathryn demonstrates how the Marketing and People functions are able to complement each other. Utilising the power of both functions enables you to create a consistent, positive message, resulting in a stronger culture and improving your employer brand.

Amelia Black is a Consultant in the HR Practice at Berwick Partners. She is responsible for placing senior management and leadership roles across all functions within HR. These include generalist positions and more specialist roles within Learning and Development, Talent, Employee Relations, Reward and Resourcing.  For further information on how we could help your business, please contact Amelia on 0207 367 9752.

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