Meet Our Leaders: James Watts

James Watts is the Chief People Officer for our 7,000 International Pizza Hut restaurants all over the globe. Which is great, because James is the embodiment of what we mean when we call someone a “people person.” Case in point: when we went to visit him, we did not find him in his office as expected—instead, he was sitting at the picnic table among the cubes next to his office, alongside the rest of the Pizza Hut International HR team.

Nevertheless, we took the time to get to know James through the things in his office.

Explore the picture below by finding and clicking on the highlighted areas to read more about James and his career at Pizza Hut!

Recognition: Monarch Butterfly

I love this recognition award down here, the butterfly, which was given to me by somebody on my old team. It was given to me by someone on my team [in the UK, where James worked before moving back to Dallas] and it’s just nice to be recognized by someone who worked for me. It was just very, very heartfelt and lovely, with a great story behind it. It’s called the “going the extra mile award” because it’s a monarch butterfly, which flies from Canada to Mexico, a trip that takes five generations for the butterfly to get there, and it’s like a roughly 8,000 mile round trip. It’s one of nature’s great miracles and it’s an amazing story. The award signifies someone who wants to go the extra mile and will not let anyone stand in their way. Plus, I was just reading the book of that story to my daughter a few weeks ago.

Recognition: Dog Superhero

Favorite recognition award? I like them all, but if I was to pick out two, the dog guy on the plinth just because my daughter loves that one—you can press a button on it and it shoots something out, so she loves that.

Recognition: The Big Return Award

The Big Return award: this recognition was from Tony Lemmings, he’s now the General Manager for KFC in Australia, and we both used to work here in Dallas, and that was basically for helping him with a bunch of recruitment projects on his team.

Photos from Pizza Hut UK

I think you learn something about yourself in every job that you’re in. A bunch of stuff comes with me from lots of different jobs. Behind my desk are my three LSI’s [Leadership Skills Index]—the first one of which was when I worked in Dallas the first, in 2011, and then the second two were when I was back in the UK. There is a picture of my old UK team there—lots of these photos come from across different things in my career, some of them happen to be in the UK and some of them happen to be when I’ve been in other parts of Yum!

Leadership Styles

The fact that I don’t really sit in this office is, I think, a little reflective of my leadership style. I learn a lot more sitting outside rather than being shut away. It enables me to make better connections with the people who I work with—I’m a lot more accessible and people are much more comfortable coming up to me and bringing their ideas and sharing opinions. I get a lot of personal learning out of that—and more fun, as well. I think I’m just more in touch with what’s happening and it helps me be better at what I do.

Pizza Hut UK Apprenticeship Program Graduation

This is a picture of one of our largest apprenticeship graduations that we did in the UK business. It’s similar to the Life Unboxed EDU program that the US is starting next year. Basically, all of our levels of restaurant training are accredited in the UK, so you receive a nationally recognized qualification which ultimately leads to a degree. When people graduated from different levels of the program. It was a great way to celebrate the graduates at the end of what is a hard program to get through.

Our goal is to unlock the potential of every team member that works in our business. The UK program really struck a chord with me. As I grew up, I dropped out of university and ended up going back later to get my degree through a company that was willing to sponsor me while I worked for them part-time. I’ve been a beneficiary of an alternative route to higher education, and being able to pass that on to other people is a big deal for me.

Family Photos

The pictures that I have— my family over there, a picture of my wedding day, etc. are here because my family is moral compass of my life. I like these photos because they remind me of why I do what I do. My mom died last year, and she was and is very much my North Star in the way that I think about things.

Charlton FC

That’s my soccer team’s stadium in London. I’m a Charlton Athletic FC fan. They’re a terrible team that are probably going to get relegated from the second division of English soccer this season. But you can’t change your soccer teams- you’re stuck with them for life.

Family Photos

The pictures that I have—my family over there, a picture of my wedding day, etc. are here because my family is moral compass of my life. I like these photos because they remind me of why I do what I do. My mom died last year, and she was and is very much my North Star in the way that I think about things.

Hi James, thanks for talking with us. As the Chief People Officer for our international restaurants, what’s a market you’ve visited recently, and a market you’re most excited about for the next year?

I was in India a few weeks ago. That was great fun—a very exciting business. Pizza Hut has huge potential growth opportunities in India—we could have 5,000 stores there if we can realize the brands full potential there.

As for the market I’m most excited about, I think I’m really excited about all of them, to be honest. The whole reason I was thrilled to come into this job in January was because of the opportunity to help make a difference and to help set the business up for the enormous growth that we could have in the future. The work that needs to go into making those opportunities viable—whether it’s in Canada, Asia, Europe, or Latin America—is all very different in depending where you are in the world. This position stretches you in different ways and makes you think about different stuff. Long story short: just excited, full stop.

Sounds like a busy year, not to mention we’ll be unveiling our Life Unboxed campaign. What does Life Unboxed mean to you?

As I think about my own journey, both as a person and as a leader, it wasn’t until about 5 years ago after a lot of coaching from great people around me that I figured out how to be the truly authentic version of myself. Since then, I’ve felt more and more comfortable not trying to act in any way other than myself. As it turns out, if I’m myself, that’s actually want the company wants. So for me, living Life Unboxed means being true to yourself and being true to your own personal values and being comfortable to express yourself.

It also means having this constant desire to become all that you can be. I try to pick one big thing a year that will stretch me and scare me a little bit and as a result make me grow. A couple years ago I started doing triathlons, which at the time, I could barely ride a bike, and so I set myself a goal of doing an Ironman within a year—I trained for that and managed to do it. This year, it’s boxing. I’ve never gone anything like it before and I’m not particularly coordinated so it’s really pushed me from my comfort zone, but that’s when I think you learn best. But it’s great fun!

That’s good advice for someone looking to think outside the box. Any other leadership advice?

There are six key lessons I’ve learnt over the year as I’ve studied the kind of leaders I’d like to learn from. None of them are rocket science in isolation but I think they add up to something pretty great:

  1. Ask for help. At Pizza Hut, you’re not expected to have all the answers, and if you do think you have all the answers, then you’re probably going to fail. The best leaders that I’ve seen succeed are the ones who say ‘you know what, I don’t know the answer to that and you’re way better than me at it, so can you help me?’
  2. Focus on your strengths. I think we spend 80-90% of our reflection time worrying about the things we’re not good at, but the reality is that we’re probably never going to be truly great at them. Instead, the best leaders I see work on turning their strengths into towering strengths. While you should definitely fix any ‘de-railers’ you might have, don’t spend too much time focusing on fixing all your weaknesses, because you’ll just cause yourself a lot of angst. Instead, take those three things that you’re good at and make them awesome.
  3. Face out. By ‘Face Out’, I mean how much time you spend facing out into the world and scanning the horizon of what’s new, what’s different, and what’s going on in the marketplace? Even if it’s not a topic directly in your category or sphere of influence, it’s important to know what else is happening out there and the megatrends shaping consumers’ or potential employees’ thinking. It also helps keeps you fresh and innovative
  4. Stage-building. (has a sign on the wall). When I look at the leaders who I have loved working for, they’re all stage builders. They build a stage for others to perform on, and give their team a chance to shine. For a long time earlier in my career I was the show stealer, I was the guy who had to be on the stage with the best ideas. I realized the leaders I admired most put others on the stage, and as a result, I would do almost anything for those leaders because they gave me the space to grow. There’s a quote by Richard Branson that I love, ‘build a team of stars and shine in their shadows’, and I think that sums up exactly what I mean by Stage Building
  5. Truth tell. This is inspired by a quote I read from Alan Mullaly, former CEO of Ford. He said, ‘you can’t manage a secret’. The best leaders that I’ve seen actually pick truth-tellers, two or three people around who they know will tell them what they’re doing well, what they’re doing poorly better. You can’t manage a secret so great leaders find out ways to define reality, even if it’s hard to hear.
  6. Be yourself. This, we’ve already talked about. There’s a cool exercise that I’ve done where you draw your career lifeline and map your highs and lows. Without fail, when you track back through years of your career, there’s a correlation between your highest performance and when you were happiest and staying true to your values. And for that matter, where you’re performing least well is typically where you’re being asked to do something that goes against your value or pushes you to be inauthentic. The power of being yourself is huge, and that’s what the culture at Pizza Hut around the world is based on.

What’s the best part about your job?

Well, it’s very cheesy, but it’s the people I work with. I spend a lot of my time laughing, and I think that’s a good sign. I get to learn from smart, fun people around me, and I love that I get to think very strategically as well. Yum! is a company that values breadth in their leaders. It doesn’t matter whether you work in Marketing, Operations or HR, you’re expected to think like a General Manager. So I get to have—and I’m expected to have—opinions on our Marketing strategy, on our ownership model, on our growth strategy, and I love that. That’s massively motivating to me and intellectually stimulating, besides being lots of fun.

What’s your favorite PH product out of all the products in the world?

I think a pan pizza fresh out of the oven is awesome!  There’s nothing quite like it.

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