PG's 2014 Retailer of the Year coverage continues with Kathy Russello, Ahold USA’s EVP, Human Resources, who discusses the company's diversity efforts and advice for aspiring grocery industry leaders.
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring grocery industry leaders, Kathy Russello, Ahold USA’s EVP, human resources, says: “A general trait we’re looking for in anyone, regardless of the position, is someone who is a strong leader. You have to have someone who can focus on associates, and someone who is passionate about customers and delivering the best. Those are the kind of people that are most successful, because they are inspiring leaders. They might not know everything about retail, but if they’re passionate about food and their fellow associates, their passion is contagious, and sparks a fire under their team.”
In turn, fired-up teams are best equipped for job one, which Russello says is “taking care of customers.” And it takes just “a simple ingredient to make it happen: engaged associates who make it a better place to work and a better place to shop. If you engage and inspire associates,” she affirms, “they’ll run through walls for you, and will become as loyal as the day is long by giving 100 percent.”
Russello is deeply proud of Ahold USA’s embrace of diversity as a natural extension of its role as part of a dynamic global workforce, whose employees live in several countries and serve customers from every walk of life, every day. “Diversity and inclusion are valued at every level of our organization and are integral parts of our business culture,” she explains. “We work hard to foster an environment where all employees can demonstrate their abilities, skills and experiences,” she says, “and where they can realize their full potential.”
Diversity Paves Way for Success
To that end, Russello continues, “We engage all associates and seek out their valued feedback, to ensure we’re focused on doing all that we can to take advantage of our diverse pool of associates, who are very willing to share and teach and help us continue to grow.”
The company’s business resource groups, dedicated to female and multicultural associates, among others, provide a formal opportunity to network, learn and share experiences with one another, in addition to enabling the company and its divisions to better develop its training procedures, which, Russello says, “demonstrate the value of giving each other different perspectives to enhance the understanding of people’s needs in the various communities we serve.
“We spent lots of time and focus on diversity initiatives, and will continue doing so on an ongoing basis, because our success is paved directly by our diversity efforts,” Russello asserts, citing the intrinsic importance of stores and associates mirroring the communities they serve. “We otherwise wouldn’t have authenticity in products, assortment or connections with our customers, and it really comes down to understanding the specific needs of a store,” which she says is best accomplished by attuned associates.
Considering Ahold USA’s next generation of leaders, Russello says that people who can adapt to and withstand the rapidity of change — abilities that rank high among the company’s foremost priorities — are best positioned to succeed. “The companies that are going to succeed are in the forefront working to stay one step ahead. I think we do really well in this regard, because we take nothing for granted. We have a healthy dissatisfaction for status quo. We’re proud of what we’ve done, but we’re also humble because we know we can get better.”