Written by
Tom Ritchie

Published
15 Sep 2017

Career profile: Kathryn Austin, HR and marketing director, Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

15 Sep 2017 • by Tom Ritchie

  • 2010-2012: Vice president, HR, Pizza Hut UK
  • 2008-2010: Director of HR, Direct Channels, Lloyds Banking Group and additionally from 2009 Halifax Community Bank.
  • 2001-2007: Head of HR Operations, Barclays

A day in your life

Tell us about your job, organisation and team.

As the HR and marketing director at Pizza Hut Restaurants, my job is all about people and encouraging love for our brand whether that is with our guests or our team members.

Over the last five years, we’ve undertaken the biggest change programme in our history, with the goal of reinvigorating the brand to ensure we remain current and continue to resonate and connect with our customers.

Ultimately, our objective is to become the most loved place to eat and work. Our people are at the very heart of this, both our employees and our customers. It’s my job to know what they want and the best way to reach them to create a meaningful and impactful connection.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people progress and develop within the business. I’m always really proud to see our apprentices move up to the next level or our employees move into management positions.

We’ve worked really hard to develop industry leading training and development programmes that focus on teaching much more than just technical skills. We want to give our employees ‘skills for life’ so they feel empowered to strive for success and genuinely have a fulfilling and rewarding career with us.

By working with organisations like the School of Life and Heartstyles we have been able to take a more holistic approach to training which focuses on self-development and emotional wellbeing. In addition, we’re the first in the hospitality industry to tackle the stigma around mental health. We have partnered with Mental Health UK and Time to Change to raise awareness of mental health problems in the workplace.  

What are the most challenging parts of your role?

We serve over two million guests a month and so when we change something we have to make sure we get it right - as a result we have to test and modify ideas sometimes over time to ensure we get it right for the guest, team member and shareholder. When you are not a particularly patient person waiting for results can be a challenge!

What does a typical day look like for you?

In any given day I can do a massive variety of things, yesterday for example in the morning I was in the office reviewing the frame by frame detail of a new piece of advertising, then in the afternoon mentoring a Restaurant Manager around developing their Hut culture, various meetings and conference calls, and then in the evening visiting one of our restaurants to check out the guest experience.

I try to divide the day into three or four sections and focus on a specific objective in each part of the day but no two days will be the same. The best days will always be visiting our restaurants, meeting new starters and great managers. Working shifts in the restaurant is the best way to keep in touch with reality and connect directly with our guests - I try to do this when I need to understand the impact of something new, and likewise I also really enjoy delivering training programmes which provides helpful insight into our employee experience.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

I’ve always picked my roles less on the company and more on the challenge and what there is to do. I had lots of fond memories of Pizza Hut from my childhood – and when I found out Yum [Pizza Hut’s then parent company, based in the US] was looking to reinvigorate the brand in the UK it seemed like a good challenge and I wasn’t wrong!

What skills are essential for your role?

Curiosity, resilience, passion, creativity, commercial thinking and a sense of humour helps! 

Career path

How did you get to where you are now? Have you followed the career path you expected?

I started at British Airways on their graduate recruitment programme. I had the opportunity to gain a holistic experience of how a global organisation works via international placements and projects across different functions including supply chain, IT, customer services, marketing and HR. I graduated from the programme into 'Catering', the department responsible for developing the total in-flight and airport lounge service experience.

My first 'proper' job was managing the Caribbean and I had the pleasure of developing products and services including Concorde to World Traveller (as well as drinking plenty of rum punch).  It was a brilliant first step on the career ladder as I had the opportunity to live all over the world and experience working in different cultures.  Then some of the team I was working with went to work for Barclays, and I got a call asking me to come and take part in a big change project. That was my first ‘formal’ role in HR. Ever since then my roles have always had an emphasis on change, and have been in customer-focused businesses. 

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

Like everyone, plenty of daily work and life challenges. I have an ongoing battle with self-confidence - I doubt myself all the time, however this can be essential if you are in a senior role so as to not fall into the trap of assuming you are always right. The trick is to recognise when self-doubt shifts from being healthy to becoming inhibitive. I remember the debate I had with myself about picking up the leadership of Marketing, at the time it was a very unusual combination but we had a very good reason for needing to bring the functions together. The best way to get over your doubts is to ask yourself, 'what is the worst that can happen?' and then go for it.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Expand your knowledge and experience by working beyond the HR function. By seeing first-hand how other departments operate you’ll be better informed and be able to use that information to benefit your own work.   

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Tea
  • Sweet or savoury? Cheese because it can be both
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Beatles - reminds me of long car trips with my Dad playing his favourite cassettes.
  • Apple or Android? Apple
  • Introvert or extrovert? Both (difficult one, I can be either depending on the situation)
  • Early bird or night owl? Early bird
  • Winter or summer? Autumn (like the transition of both Spring and Autumn)
  • City or countryside? Countryside 

Favourites

  • App: Yammer – that’s Pizza Hut Restaurants internal social networking site which is great for keeping up to date on the various activities and people stories from across the business
  • Film: Dunkirk – totally beautiful cinematography – piece of art
  • Song: Sweet Disposition by Temper Trap (great dance version too!)
  • Book: Lord of the Rings
  • Childhood hero: David Attenborough and my grandmother (I think they would have got on together)
  • Guilty pleasure: Prosecco
  • Place to eat: Pizza Hut of course!
  • Holiday spot: Pembrokeshire and Ceredgion (Cardigan Bay is where I live and holiday)
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: “Choose your attitude”