HR in the hot seat: Kathryn Finch, operational HR manager for Costa in Southeast Asia & India

by Miklos Bolza26 Jan 2016
What made you decide to work in HR?
 
Coming from an operations background, growing my career from the ground up and having the pleasure of working with such diverse teams of talented and expert people, I guess you could say I was destined for a role in HR. I spent the past five years leading the learning and development agenda in the Costa Middle East and Southeast Asia (MEA) hub office in Dubai. This certainly sparked my passion for people and understanding the power of highly engaged and well-trained teams in supporting the international business growth.
 
What is your job title and what brought you into this particular role?
 
My current role is operational HR manager for Costa Southeast Asia & India (SEAI). I was already supporting the Southeast Asia region in my previous role where I was leading the learning and development agenda for 14 franchise markets and over 500 Costa stores. Towards the end of 2014, an opportunity arose for me to focus my HR experience and leverage my operational background to lead the transition of 100 employees over to a recently-acquired equity business with a sole focus on Singapore. This involved me relocating to Singapore in February 2015. I saw this as an exciting opportunity to immerse myself in the Southeast Asia region and dig deeper in understanding the business culture here, particularly in the F&B sector which is particularly competitive in Singapore.
 
What motivates/excites you in this role?
 
Being a HR generalist, I am fortunate to work with all functions of the business, but most importantly I am excited to work closely with the operations team focused solely on our customers. I get to feel first-hand the impact of the work that we do in the HR team and use that to steer our focus when required. In particular I am motivated by the talent potential within our business in Singapore having changed the way that we recruit – for values and personality rather than skill.
 
Whether it is creating a more flexible working environment, a more fruitful welfare package, offering internship opportunities or simply learning what makes our team tick to enable them to deliver the most genuine and unbeatable customer experience, I thrive off the connection with our team and that helps influence the way that we approach our people plan. I am excited by the evolving team culture that has organically formed since the acquisition in May, both in our central support office and all the way through into our stores.
 
What are the goals that you most want to accomplish in your work?
 
As we move into 2016, one of our key priorities in the HR team is defining our employer brand. This will be fundamental in communicating why Costa is such a great place to come for a career and will help us attract the best talent in the region. We do a lot to recognise the skills of our baristas, and aim to inspire them to be the best they can be. There is a lot of pride and excitement amongst the team, and I want to see this spread as we grow. I also look forward to helping Costa connect with the local community in the region.
 
What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to?
 
As we continue to grow the Costa business, I’m excited to support the opening of new stores in Singapore along with entering some new markets in the region. Costa’s sister company Premier Inn Hotels will be opening in Singapore in 2016 and I am also looking forward to working with that team to grow the Whitbread family in SEAI.
 
What is your favourite aspect of the job and what is your least favourite?
 
I guess you could say that my favourite aspect can also be my least at times, and that would be the pace that the entire international business moves. The pace and agility of the Costa SEAI team is always exciting and energising, but can at times be stretching as we are a lean and relatively newly formed team.
 
Best piece of HR advice you’ve ever received?
 
Early on in my international career, one of my mentors simply told me, “In order to see big changes, you’ve got to be bold”. This is was particularly useful advice during the first couple of months after the transition of the Singapore business when we had to make some sensitive decisions about the organisational structure of the team.
 
Do you have any key mentors who have influenced you? If yes, please tell me about them.
 
I have had the pleasure of working alongside some truly expert people within both our international and UK team and I have to admit that I steal with pride when it comes to great ideas! I particularly embrace working with women in senior leadership positions, especially those who have experience working in international markets; they are great sounding boards for managing some of the realities of working as an expat in a dynamic business environment such as Singapore.