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Celebrating Cultural Fusion: Insights on Diversity, Ikigai, and Leadership Advice


Celebrating Cultural Fusion: Insights on Diversity, Ikigai, and Leadership Advice
Discover the career journeys of esteemed leaders within Yum! Brands in the #HowIGotHere series. Delve into the story of James Watts, the Global Chief People & ESG Officer at Pizza Hut, in this edition.


If we spoke with your educators, what impressions do you think they would share about you?
I tended to be boisterous, highly energetic, with my mind often drifting to the football field. I managed to perform adequately without putting in much effort, although I could have achieved even more had I applied myself more diligently.

What were your career aspirations as a child?
I had a tough choice between pursuing a career in football or becoming an author of fantasy novels. Even then, I was a curious mix of athlete and fantasy/science fiction enthusiast.
First Job: My first job was as a ride operator at Thorpe Park, an amusement park in West London, where I learned invaluable lessons in leadership. I am deeply appreciative of the experience, which equipped me with skills in team management, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, coaching, and emotional intelligence. It also instilled in me a profound respect for frontline workers, a sentiment that has resonated throughout my professional journey.
  • Merlin Entertainment (formerly 'The Tussauds Group'), London, United Kingdom
1998 – 1999: Operations Supervisor, Thorpe Park
1999 – 2000: Learning & Development Advisor, Thorpe Park & Chessington World of Adventures
2000 – 2002: Human Resource Manager, Madame Tussauds London
  • The Walt Disney Company, London, United Kingdom
2002 – 2003: Learning & Development Manager, Disney Store Europe
2003 – 2004: Human Resources Manager, Disney Consumer Products
  • Pizza Hut, London, United Kingdom
2004 – 2007: Senior Manager, Organizational Development
  • KFC, London, United Kingdom
2007 – 2008: Director, Operations Human Resources
  • Yum! Brands, Plano, Texas, United States
2008 – 2011: Senior Director, Global Talent Management & Development
  • KFC, London, United Kingdom
2012 – 2015: Chief People Officer
  • Pizza Hut, Plano, Texas, United States
2015 – 2021: Chief People Officer, Pizza Hut International
2021 to Present: Global Chief People & ESG Officer

Do you believe in maintaining a balance between work and personal life?
I firmly believe in integrating the aspects of life that hold the most significance to achieve optimal effectiveness. Over time, I've realized the importance of balancing four key facets of my life: family, career, hobbies, and giving back. While I may not always strike the perfect balance, it's essential for me to consciously safeguard time for each throughout the year to maintain fulfillment and effectiveness.
What experiences or individuals have influenced your approach to work?
The Tussauds Group holds a special place in my journey, offering me the opportunity to transition from a ride operator to an office role within the parent company. They supported my pursuit of higher education in human resources, despite not following the conventional path. This experience imparted invaluable lessons in leadership, particularly in handling challenging situations and cultivating emotional intelligence.

Cultural Fusion
My father hails from north London, while my mother, one of eight siblings from the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent in The Grenadines, immigrated and married individuals from various corners of the world. Thus, my upbringing was a delightful tapestry of diverse cultures, cuisines, and perspectives. Adding to this mosaic, my wife is of Indian descent, and our 14-year-old daughter, born in the U.S., proudly identifies as "Br-Ameri-Indian." Having spent the past 15 years in global roles, traversing over 45 countries, I've come to appreciate immigration, blended families, inclusion, and the freedom of identity as enriching facets of life. Embracing our differences fosters celebration, reminding us that beneath it all, our similarities far outweigh our disparities.
Drawing inspiration from Hector Garcia's book on the Japanese secret to a fulfilling life, I've incorporated its principles into harmonizing my career and personal life.
Perceptions versus Reality
Despite my repeated attempts to elucidate, my family remains somewhat mystified about my profession, albeit they believe it involves hiring individuals.
Most Valuable Advice
Upon assuming my inaugural role as Chief People Officer of KFC's Leadership Team in 2012, my boss, Martin Shuker, imparted invaluable guidance. Recognizing my blend of eagerness tinged with imposter syndrome, he simply urged me to be authentic, assuring me that's all he sought. His words resonated profoundly and continue to guide me today.
Source of Happiness
  • My daughter's melodic voice.
  • The sight of my wife's radiant smile.
  • Receiving testimonials from restaurant managers on the positive impact they've made on their teams, alongside collaborating with colleagues to propel Pizza Hut forward.
  • Engaging in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Approach to Life
Confront the most daunting challenges head-on, as therein lies the greatest opportunity for growth and impact. Remain humble, willing to seek guidance and learn from those around you. Remember, if you're the most accomplished person in the room, it's time to seek a new environment.