Issue 3: Tea Colaianni - Merlin Entertainments Group
Being female has not affected Tea Colaianni's
career development at all - in fact she
can recall just one time when sexism reared its ugly head.
She was a trainee lawyer in Brussels and in a business meeting with some Japanese clients, when, to her mortification, Colaianni's boss asked her to make a cup of tea for everyone:
"I told him to get up and make it himself," she
"The Japanese clients were surprised to have a woman in the meeting in the first place and then when I refused to do what my boss asked, they were really shocked."
Colaianni is now group HR director on the Executive Board of Merlin Entertainments, Europe's number one and the world's number two global leisure attractions operator.
With more than 90 attractions in 21 countries, including the world's leading aquarium brand, SEA LIFE; LEGOLAND Parks and Discovery Centres; the EDF Energy London Eye; Alton Towers; Gardaland in Italy and Heide Park in Germany - her
early decision to let no-one talk down to her
has obviously paid off.
describes herself as ambitious, driven and independent, traits that she
admits have been easier to exercise thanks to the fact that her
husband runs his
own business and has the flexibility to share some of the childcare duties for their now seven and six year old sons (who, unsurprisingly, think their mum has the best job in the world).
feels a responsibility to make it easier for other women to progress in their working lives too.
She is on the Leadership Council for Women 1st, the initiative run by People 1st (the sector skills council for hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism in the UK on whose council of members Colaianni also sits) to increase the number of female board-level executives in the sector to 10% by 2015 and 20% by 2025.
She has just joined the Prince's Trust Women's Leadership Group whose mission is to raise funds to help young women to transform their lives through education and enterprise.
has also just received approval from Merlin's CEO, Nick Varney, to organise the first 'Merlin Women' virtual conference at the end of this year to look at ways of enabling female employees to fulfil their potential.
"We do have work to do on this area ourselves," she
"I am the only woman on the board here at Merlin
and of our grade two executives, 18% are women and in grade three, which includes general managers, it is 39%."
Having said that, she
believes the company culture at Merlin
is incredibly supportive to employees across the board and is justifiably proud that the organisation recently won an HR Distinction Award for employee engagement.
For a business that employs more than 20,000 staff worldwide, 13,000 of whom are seasonal (numbers that have swollen this year with the opening of the new hotel at LEGOLAND Windsor; a new LEGOLAND park in Malaysia; the integration of the 10 attractions in Asia Pacific added through the acquisition earlier this year of Living and Leisure Australia; the openings of three new LEGOLAND Discovery Centres plus the new Weymouth Tower), staff turnover is impressively low.
The figure is currently just over 22.5% which compares very favourably against the People 1st benchmark of 29% for leisure attractions.
says the target is to get Merlin's figure down to 20% by 2015 and she
is confident this can be achieved.
You would not want to bet against her
has a proven track record for reaching her
goals and is not afraid of challenging the status quo if she
feels there is a better way.
Yet with so many brands operating in so many territories, Colaianni
recognised that Merlin
's previous set of values were way too many, too confusing and had evolved from site level upwards, dating back to when the original Merlin acquired the larger Tussauds Group.
All of this comes under the umbrella of 'The Merlin Way' and while the cynical may think it all sounds a bit like touchy-feely PR speak, Colaianni
has plenty of examples to show the positive impact it has had in all aspects of the business.
The Merlin Way is complemented by a number of other recruitment, staff training and reward initiatives instigated by Colaianni
and all designed to work together to strengthen the Merlin brand around the world.
These include the STAR scheme under which colleagues can recognise each other online; and the CEO Award Plan, which annually grants company shares to employees for long service or outstanding performance.
says while Merlin
encourages all of its operations to adopt its group wide strategies, it is also very entrepreneurial, giving some operational flexibility and autonomy so that the initiatives can be adapted to the local market or, in some instances, it is more a case of allowing them to get used to the idea of doing things differently.
Dealing with HR issues across Europe is something Colaianni gained experience of during her time at Hilton, immediately prior to joining Merlin.
Although a native Italian, Colaianni
has never actually worked in Italy and says her
best language for business is English.
From a recruitment point of view, finding seasonal staff in Germany has also been tricky as unemployment is so low and, Colaianni
acknowledges, because the industry does not pay as well as others.
says, however, that the uniqueness of the organisation and its ongoing expansion provide constant challenges.
In 2013 alone, she
will open a hotel in LEGOLAND California, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Toronto and Westchester - New York, a SEA LIFE centre in Manchester and a Dungeon in Berlin to name a few.
is looking forward to fulfilling her
professional ambition of being group HR director for a publicly-listed company, something she
intends to do at Merlin
The volatility in the financial markets that led the group to put plans for flotation on hold two years ago have not gone away, and an IPO is still very much the ultimate goal for the company so, yet again, Colaianni looks likely to achieve what she set out to do.