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Ahold USA’s EVP, Human Resources Kathy Russello discusses the retailer's team-oriented culture.
“We are a group of associates who really like to win,” declares Kathy Russello, Ahold USA’s EVP, human resources, “but it takes teamwork to make it happen,” the required ingredients for which consist in equal parts of “bringing the right people together; having a healthy respect for differences of opinions, thoughts and perspectives; and a willingness to share.”
An accomplished leader for more than 30 years, Russello — who earned distinction as a PG Top Woman in Grocery in 2011 — is a self-described “passionate believer in the retail supermarket business” and a strong advocate for people from all ranks of the company, each of whom is central to Ahold USA’s Better Neighbor promise. Leading the company’s efforts “to ensure we’ve got the right people in the right roles and to empower them with the capabilities to propel growth,” Russello oversees the full scope of Ahold USA’s human resources support functions, with a singular focus: “to foster a culture of people development and growth.”
Russello’s supermarket roots run deep. Beginning her career in store operations for Mayfair Supermarkets, she joined Ahold in 1995 as part of the human resources support team for the New York division of both Edwards and Stop & Shop. Throughout her career, she has taken on progressively challenging leadership positions within human resources and labor relations, which has in turn given her a deep understanding of and appreciation for the broad range of career opportunities.
'Centuries of Experience'
Russello is a big believer in investing in associates’ careers by offering growth opportunities, training and development programs that bring out their best. “We’ve got a family of companies that have been around for a very long time, and I’m really proud of that,” she says, noting that the retail banners’ longevity ultimately reflects on its stellar associates. “We’ve got a number of people who have worked for each of our different companies for many, many years. They followed in the footsteps of other generations who’ve worked for the company, so our heritage is truly about our associates, who take such good care of customers. We have centuries of experience, and our people are driving us forward.”
Another interesting aspect of Ahold USA’s heritage, Russello adds, is its loyal customers. “I knew many of our customers on a first-name basis, and I know the same is true for so many associates. We often like to think it’s about great products, prices and services,” she continues, and these are undoubtedly important. “But it’s really about the trusted relationships store associates have with customers.”
When talking about the grocery industry as a place to build a career, Russello applauds the many diverse and rewarding paths it offers to existing employees seeking advancement, as well as to prospective job candidates. Ahold USA’s divisions, she reports, “have done a great deal to do promote the industry as an employer of choice,” particularly in the past five years, during which time Russello has seen a surge of interested applicants from outside the food industry.
She notes, “Our employer brand is changing, and people are coming in from other industries,” in many cases via word-of-mouth referrals from friends and co-workers. “People are seeing the real opportunities, for a few good reasons, including that we are competitive, with very good salaries and great benefits; we reward and recognize great performance.”
Equally important, she continues, is that aside from retail management, a career at an Ahold USA company provides people with the chance to grow in careers across a multitude of areas, including merchandising, finance, human resources, legal, IT, operations, marketing, real estate, construction management and supply chain. “Our companies are also doing lots of interesting things focusing on digital marketing,” Russello says, adding that the field has attracted talent from top universities, “who are sharing their knowledge and skills to help us drive the digital advancements” currently underway company-wide.
These successful employer-of-choice objectives also dovetail well with its Better Neighbor promise when seeking and recruiting new employees, and promoting from within. “People give a lot of time to a company, and they want to be proud of their employer. And when candidates learn about the vast amount of time, money and effort our divisions contribute to supporting the communities where we work and live,” Russello says they can’t help but be impressed. “It’s clearly one of the biggest selling points from a human resources perspective for attracting interested candidates.”
More of PG's exclusive interview with Ahold USA's Kathy Russello can be found in the related Follow the Leader story.