Did Kari Daniels feel she was a natural born leader? “No, I didn't, is the honest answer,” she laughs. Thinking back, I did every sports event going at school and liked being part of a team. When I got into the working world, I enjoyed working in a team, collaborating, making a plan, then cracking on and delivering it. That felt energising.” Still, any leadership ambitions she had were entirely subconscious, she insists.

Nevertheless, leadership is where Daniels has ended up. Last September, she became the first ever female CEO of Tesco Ireland. Since joining the organisation in 2002, she has taken the opportunity to get as much experience as she could in a variety of senior commercial and marketing roles in the UK and Europe, including Director of Brand in Tesco UK's Customer team and Commercial Director for Packaged Foods in the UK. “Moving around the business was a chance to learn and network,” she says.

 

More representative of customers

 

Obviously, it's hugely positive that a woman is now at the top of Tesco Ireland. But it's taken a long time for it to happen. Why does she think that is? “That's a big question,” she muses. “We've gone through a lot of changes in the last four years and the executive team certainly see opportunities around inclusivity. That's not exclusively about gender: it's about being more representative of the customers we serve.”


"We're looking at how we can be more supportive, for example, giving people more flexibility and work life balance."

Daniels is by no means the only woman in Tesco's top tier. In fact, 60% of the Irish leadership team is female. Plus, over 50% of colleagues, both in Tesco head office and in stores are female. “It does need driving from the top, but I feel there's now real momentum behind gender diversity. It's not just us, either. Lots of our suppliers are putting diversity and inclusion high on their agendas and have targets and measures in place, so I sense real progress on this front.

"We're also being more celebratory about diversity and inclusion. For example, our company has the largest LGBT+ network in Europe; and we sponsor Pride in Ireland, the UK and other countries. That visibility is really positive in my view.”

 

Flexible working to support families

 

Like most women, Daniels has had to overcome various career barriers and is determined to make it easier for those coming up the ladder behind her.

“I have two boys,” she says. “I know the juggling it takes, especially when children are young; although that goes for men, too. And it's particularly difficult in retail where hours are long and often demanding. “So, we're looking at how we can be more supportive, for example, giving people more flexibility and work life balance because we know people have family commitments.

"We're also looking at what we can do to help colleagues better manage stress and pressure and generally live healthier lives; and how we can support women and men to develop the careers they want, throughout the business.”

 

Making the most of opportunities

 

Mentoring can help in this regard, she says. “In my experience, it was useful having a mentor whenever I transitioned into a new role. And I've been a mentor myself and always ended up learning something through the process. So I would encourage people to mentor, be a good role model and support the next generation. .”

She stops to think about what she has learned over the years and has three pieces of advice for aspiring leaders. The first is, 'be your best self'.

“Don't masquerade and try to be what you think people want you to be,” says Daniels. “I believe that being myself is a value that helped me through the business. I'd also encourage anyone to seize opportunities when they arise. That's what I did, and it gave me invaluable experience. Lastly — and I tell this to anyone coming into our organisation — you have to remember that a career is about playing a long game. Some people are in a rush to rise through the ranks; but I say, enjoy every role you have, get the most out of it, do the best job and in the long-term, you'll have the career you want. Keep learning and keep being curious.”