Jo Kelly is Head of Partner Development at Waitrose & Partnership Services, part of the John Lewis Partnership, the largest example of employee ownership in the UK. Jo is responsible for 48,000 Waitrose Partners (staff) and manages a team of a 80 Partners. A psychologist, Jo has extensive senior management experience in Talent Management across a variety of companies and sectors including British Airways, BP, Prudential UK and the John Lewis Partnership.
My move to the UK was motivated by the desire to explore Europe. I planned to travel around Europe for two years and go back home to Australia. Falling in love with an Englishman changed all that. I have now been in the UK for over 25 years. The buzz of London exceeded any expectations that I had about living in the UK — there is always something to do. What I wasn’t prepared for was the weather. After 25 years, I’ve learnt that if you don’t expect to have good weather, when it happens then you are pleasantly surprised.
For the first five years, I still felt Australia was definitely home. Then there was a middle period of transition where Australian or English did not seem to fit. Now, as a British citizen, I feel a combination of both. I have two homes — Australia and UK. My children consider themselves British — that is, unless Australia is winning in the rugby or cricket — then my son is Australian. I try to go home to Australia every 12 months. The best part is visiting family and friends. I also enjoy the smell of the bush and eucalyptus, the blue sky, wide open horizons and the beach. I also, secretly, look forward to a Chiko roll.
I had finished my Masters in Psychology and my mentor at the time suggested it would be worthwhile gaining some work experience after so many years of study. I saw an ad for graduate traineeships with British Airways and applied. During the next three years I basically learned how to run an airline. After three years, I wanted a new challenge and applied for an International HR Manager role based in London. I stayed in International HR for five years, and during that time I also lived in Japan and travelled. One of the biggest challenges I faced was introducing performance related pay into Japan. I came back to the UK and focused on how to performance manage cabin crew — a very mobile workforce. This new position moved me towards Developmental HR. I started specialising in Performance Management when I moved to New York to take on the role of Management Development Manager – USA, for British Airways. I then became the Head of Talent and Head of Engagement. It was at this time that my specialisation in Talent Development was definite.
My psychology degree comes in handy when considering, for example, cultural differences. Businesses have come to the realisation that context is very important — you can’t just take processes and attitudes based on the culture in one country and apply it to another. Businesses need to adapt their objectives and strategies to the cultural context. However, cultural differences are getting smaller — so much so that teenagers have less in common with their parents’ generation than with people of the same age around the world. This is largely due to social media.
In my view, leaders need to bring people on side and inspire their teams to follow their direction towards a greater outcome. The best leaders are people who are authentic, accessible, an inspiration in terms of their vision, courageous and willing to take risks. The best leaders also encourage others to take risk, without punishing them if the risk doesn’t work out. Leaders must build trust and be confident. As corporations move away from command and control leadership styles, I believe that there is more room for women to move into leadership positions. An important consideration for women is to decide if moving into senior positions is what they want. The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing someone really grow and develop in their role, and get fulfilment.
To relax, I like gardening and grow my own fruit and vegetables, including the Australian staple, beetroot. I use gardening as a form of relaxation and to reflect on ideas that will help me in supporting the Waitrose partners. In my role, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve and leverage development opportunities for partners.
My favourite discovery in the UK is Cornwall, partly because it reminds me of Australia and its beaches. I like the beautiful countryside with its slower pace of life. I especially like places such as St Ives, with its art culture and seaside town — they have the Tate Modern gallery and it’s home to many international artists. There are lovely side streets with art galleries, jewellery stores and good food. For a closer escape, I like Camber Sands, near Rye — another historic, coastal town.
I wish that when I first came to the UK, I did not have an end date in mind. I spent a lot of time thinking “I’m not on plan”. I wish I had gone with the flow more. Another piece of advice for Australians thinking of coming over: have plenty of money for transport. I did not have use of a car and found it tough hunting for jobs in the middle of winter using public transport.
Interviewed by Sepi Roshan. Find out more about Jo Kelly’s perspective on work, leadership and performance management in her interview on Astute Radio available on Australiantimes.co.uk/jobs-money/astute-aussie-in-london.