How Asda's HR boss juggles family life and a 200 mile commute

POWER MUMS: Hayley Tatum, head of people at Asda and the only woman on the retailer's board, says she regrets her micro-maternity leave.

by Christine Armstrong
Last Updated: 18 Oct 2016

Hayley Tatum is the only woman on the board of Asda. With a background in HR and operations, she rose through the ranks of Tesco and now combines two kids (aged 16 and 12), a commute from Amersham  to Leeds and a labrador. She is married to Nick who works for Superdry.

How did you get to be on the board of Asda?

I worked at Tesco for 20 years. I only joined because it was the nearest supermarket and, after my A-levels, I had a car that I needed to fund. It was supposed to be a summer contract before university but I didn’t leave. I took any opportunity for overtime and worked in all the different departments so when they were opening a new store they asked me to help with recruitment.

After that I learnt to run payroll and diversified into training. I was then asked to be a personnel manager in a little store and then progressed to larger stores.

I did night school, a professional management foundation programme, but never stopped working. The fact that I never went to university makes me constantly motivated to qualify and drives me to keep going and learning.

How do you manage to work 200 miles from where you live?

We live in Amersham and have a flat in Leeds; I leave home on a Sunday and sometimes I’m away two or three days and sometimes I’m away all week. As the head of HR, I need to be visible and present. Because my husband travels for work too, there are periods in the week where neither of us are at home. It doesn’t always feel rock solid to have us both away.

How did it work when you had kids?

Just before I was 30, I had Olivia. I decided to go back to work four days a week when she was six months old and hired a nanny. But I wasn’t allowed to go back to the job at Tesco I’d had before and the new role they gave me felt made up, like not a real job. I hated it.

I was approached by a head hunter and went to BAA – stepping out into a different organisation was good – but I was asked by Tesco to go back and was offered the role I wanted with a great boss. Shortly after I had my son and only took 12 weeks' maternity leave because I felt horribly guilty that I hadn’t been back that long. Now when I look back that’s my one regret: 12 weeks was not long enough, I should have taken longer.

How did you get into operations?

I was asked to run a region at Tesco in 2005 which I did for two years and I loved it. I was then promoted to the operational board to lead HR for the UK and Ireland. When I returned to HR, I could speak more confidently about the business and it increased my confidence to contribute. My voice was louder, my input became more relevant. After three years at Asda I was asked to lead operations at board level for a year. It sharpens you to do both because you see the effects of your ideas. You eat what you cook.

What has made it all work for you?

My husband has been a massive support and has always worked full time. We manage everything together.

I’ve had two nannies but now my nephew stays from Sunday evening to Friday. The children don’t want nanny-ing anymore, and he’s a trained chef, the food is fantastic and what he does with the kids suits their age. He’s also great with the dog. When we had nannies I found it hard to let go of control, but I calmed down, which I guess comes with experience.

How do you get on with the parents at the school gate?

Rubbish! I see mums and I can’t remember who their child is. I am awful, I am not in a clique and not in a coffee morning set. My nannies were involved in that. I wanted them to be involved but there was a part of me that was a bit jealous that they were involved and I wasn’t.

More recently a mum at the school asked me to give a talk to the young girls about being a woman in business. I realised that you’re watching the stay-at-home mums  thinking how wonderful their position is – and all the time they’re watching you thinking the same.

Do you feel you paid a price?

Yes, definitely on my pension scheme. Because I went to four days a week I came out of a full-time pension scheme into a part-time one. Now looking at the difference between mine and my husband’s pension is shocking. It’s awful. Especially as I realised that even on that fifth day I was working anyway.

It really annoys me because it affects how long I might have to work for as my pension will not be as healthy as my husband’s. Even though we worked for the same company for the same amount of time. And I’m an HR director so if I get it wrong God help anybody else!

What advice would you give Olivia?

Go out to do something that you care about. I’m not hugely concerned with her being the best educated; I want her to be happy that she’s making a difference.

What have you learnt?

From the day I had Olivia I was 100% guilty as a working mum but that focuses you and allows you to be very productive and committed. I’m much more compartmentalised now than I was  and that ability has served me well.

Christine is a contributing editor of MT, owner of and a partner at Jericho Chambers. She'll be revealing 'The truth about working mums' at MT's Inspiring Women event on 16 November. Check out the programme here. And for a chance to win tickets, click here.

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