Profile: Hayley Tatum is Asda’s head of people

Hayley Tatum, senior vice president - people - at Asda. Photograph by Richard Walker/ImageNorth
Hayley Tatum, senior vice president - people - at Asda. Photograph by Richard Walker/ImageNorth
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How do you raise staff morale when the company is changing and jobs are at risk? Lizzie Murphy meets Hayley Tatum, Asda’s head of people

Hayley Tatum enters her office twenty minutes late for our interview armed with a bottle of water and flops on to the sofa.

She’s had a whirlwind of a morning already, with back-to-back meetings, including the one she’s just had with her boss, chief executive Andy Clarke.

But Tatum isn’t afraid of hard work in her role as Asda’s senior vice president - people.

“I’m my own hardest taskmaster,” she admits. “If a colleague writes to me, I write back personally. If we’re leading change that might affect a colleague, I want to know what it is and I’m personally involved in it. So I take my role and responsibility seriously. We’ve got a lot of colleagues and that means there are a lot of moments where I want to know I’m doing the best I possibly can.”

As a champion of people, Tatum presumably has her work cut out to keep up staff morale at the moment.

The Leeds-based supermarket saw sales fall by 5.1 per cent in the three months to April 24 making it the worst performer by far out of the Big Four supermarkets. Its market share fell from 16.9 per cent to 16.0 per cent.

The figures continue a long spell of weaker trading as Asda feels the effects of a shift in shopping habits to smaller stores - Asda is mainly bigger stores - and the rise of discount retailers.

Asda was also singled out by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) during a recent investigation into supermarket pricing tactics. Although the CMA did not find against the supermarket, Asda agreed to change its price promotions such as multi-buy deals in response to a super-complaint by Which? accusing supermarkets of ripping off consumers with misleading and confusing prices.

Tatum says: “We operate on trust so we were disappointed by how this was reported last week. We’ve made our case clear and we will continue to work openly with whatever line of enquiry is happening to demonstrate the way we manage pricing in Asda.

“We have been the lowest priced supermarket for 18 years. That is independently managed and reported. That doesn’t happen by fluke or by accident. We manage that very carefully and our job is to make sure that we help our customers save money.”

Then there are the redundancies. So far this year, there have been 460 redundancies at Asda - 250 in stores as it gets rid of unpopular shop floor services and 210 staff at its Leeds and George head offices.

The store changes are part of Asda’s Project Renewal, a far reaching programme to modernise its shops, cut prices and win back customers that have switched to discount retailers Aldi and Lidl.

The project is still in its early phase. Asda has worked through five out of 21 different categories in store so far. Tatum likens its meticulous planning to getting a ‘man on the moon’. “We’ve brought all our functions together to come up with some really simple plans that stores can execute,” she adds. “Trying to get this done across so many sites at the same time is no mean feat.”

So how do you persuade staff to be positive about changes being made?

“Of course when you make change of any kind it can upset the rhythm of how a colleague does their job,” Tatum admits. “But what’s important is that we act with high integrity and honesty to those colleagues that are affected. Being able to manage change well and involve colleagues in all of that is important to us.”

Meanwhile, rumours abound that chief executive Andy Clarke is planning to leave Asda following the appointment of Sainsbury’s retail and operations director Roger Burnley to the role of chief operating officer.

“Look, he’s my boss so he’ll make his own plans but right now he’s committed to the business,” says Tatum.

A vital part of Tatum’s role, she says, is staff development. Asda’s employees span five generations, including 68 octogenarians, who are all encouraged to get involved in the supermarket’s development and reward programmes.

“What’s vital for me in my role is to make sure that we hire great colleagues and equip them with opportunities to develop themselves,” she says.

Tatum herself has continued her professional development throughout her career.

Born and brought up on a farm in Stroud, Gloucestershire, she learned the value of hard work very early on.

After sitting her A-levels in 1988, she took a temporary job on the tills at her local Tesco and stayed for over 20 years. She studied her degree part time whilst working and became a member of the Chartered Fellow Institute of Personnel & Development and gained a Masters Degree in human resource management. “I have never stopped learning,” she says.

Tatum worked her way up to HR director and was also in charge of its largest region of Tesco Extra stores. She was poached by Clarke in 2011. “He caught me at the right time and I’d admired Asda for a long time,” she says.

Tatum lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband Nick, global retail director of Superdry, and their children, Olivia, 16, and Archie, 12, which, given that she works in Leeds, presents a major challenge. “Being a working mum, using flexible working and technology is vital,” she says. “I am a walking case study of how to do it, how it can all fall apart at moments in time and how I manage to tie it all together with string and sellotape.”

She adds: “I don’t like to apply the word role model to myself, but I think it matters that I am transparent about how I work and how I make this work as a female leader and as a mum.

“I think all of these honest things matter to share so someone else can look at it and think ‘my goodness if she can do it, I can too’. I want to show people anywhere in the organisation that with ambition and the right attitude they can go all the way.”

FACT FILE

Title: Senior vice president – people

DOB: November 17, 1969

Education: Masters Human Resources Management. Chartered Fellow Institute of Personnel & Development.

First Job: Waitress in a village pub aged 14

Favourite holiday destination: Lefkada, Greece

Favourite film: Any romantic comedy – I cry at pretty much everything.

Favourite song: Dakota by the Stereophonics

Last book read: Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

Car driven: Range Rover Sport

Most proud of: My daughter, my son and the fact that my husband and I still make each other laugh after so many years together. I’m also quite proud of my garden. I dug it with my dad and planted it from scratch – more have lived than died. Success!