Tea Colaianni is Group Human Resources Director at Merlin Entertainments plc and an independent non-executive director at Poundland. Prior to this Tea has held a number of human resources roles including Vice President Human Resources at Hilton Worldwide and she was also a non-executive director at Alexandra Palace. Tea qualified as a lawyer before moving into human resources.
“…Merlin’s leadership team are genuinely committed to furthering the gender diversity agenda. We require the search companies we work with to produce diverse short lists. We hold quarterly webinars with female and male role models. We run unconscious bias workshops for our managers. We have diversity champions and ambassadors…”
Tea, please can you tell us about your role at Merlin Entertainments and what got you interested in human resources?
I am the Group Human Resources Director at Merlin Entertainments plc. I joined the business over five years ago reporting into CEO Nick Varney. When I joined the business Merlin had over 60 attractions in 16 countries. Today we have over 100 attractions in 23 different countries. We anticipate growing to over 200 attractions by 2020. Over the next five years we will experience unprecedented organic growth with a particular focus across North America and Asia.
My role is to set and drive the people agenda, making sure our 26,000 employees enjoy working at Merlin (96% say they do!) and developing the capabilities we need to continue to grow our company.
I have always been interested in employment law and employee relations. Transitioning into human resources was quite a natural progression for me. My legal background has provided me with a good foundation to do what is right for our business and our employees.
Please can you tell us a bit about Merlin Entertainments and its brands?
Merlin was created in 1999 further to a management buyout from Vardon Attractions. At the time the company had over 1000 employees mainly in the UK. Today, Merlin is the second visitor attraction operator in the world after Walt Disney and has a portfolio of iconic brands including LEGOLAND, the Coca Cola London Eye, SEA LIFE, Gardaland and Madame Tussauds. Merlin was listed on the London Stock Exchange in late 2013 and joined the FTSE 100 in early 2015.
How many employees are there across the company?
We have over 26,000 employees in 23 different countries, 4 continents.
How can the human resources function help an organisation differentiate itself and how does Merlin go about developing it female talent pipeline?
Merlin has a very diverse workforce and we pride ourselves on encouraging and supporting a different set of skills and perspectives reflecting our customer base. Merlin excels in terms of our commitment to develop people from within the organisation.
We are also very good (certainly the best amongst the companies I have worked for throughout my career) at moving people across different disciplines (from specialist to operational roles, from one specialist area into another etc.).
I always say we can provide a career for life (different brands, countries, acquisitions, expansion of existing estate). Merlin’s leadership team are genuinely committed to furthering the gender diversity agenda. We require the search companies we work with to produce diverse short lists. We hold quarterly webinars with female and male role models. We run unconscious bias workshops for our managers. We have diversity champions and ambassadors.
How do you feel about the Government’s plans to introduce compulsory reporting of gender pay information for all companies with over 250 employees?
I think that the Government’s plan to introduce compulsory reporting of gender pay information is a necessary move to introduce and fast track change and fairness.
Please can you tell us about your experience as a non-executive director and what made you apply for board level roles?
I have been an INED (independent non-executive director) at Poundland plc since February 2014. Supporting the business through its flotation and during its first 18 months as a listed business continues to be an enriching and stimulating experience.
As an INED I do not get stuff done (like one does in an executive capacity), instead I bring my experience and judgment to the table, I challenge, ask questions and offer a different perspective. I was headhunted for the INED role and enjoyed the thought of testing myself, learning about the retail sector, thinking strategically about a business which has innovation and amazing value at its heart.
What is next for you and Merlin?
I love working at Merlin. Our aspiration is to catch the mouse (Disney) and I believe we will do so! It is great to have a dream.