Up-close and personal with Yum! Brands’ Cheryl Whitaker

Cheryl opens up about her job, her background and the superpower she wishes she could have.

CHRO SA interviewed Cheryl Whitaker, HR director at KFC South Africa about life, and her career journey Yum! Brands.

Tell us a bit about who you are and where you were born?
I am a wife and a mom to two beautiful children aged 9 and 11, and I was born in Zimbabwe.

How did you end up working in HR? Is this where you planned to end up?
I studied a BCom with the intention of going the CA route. I chose Industrial Psychology as one of my subjects which I loved and ended up doing a Master’s degree in it.

I found a love for understanding the psychology of organisations with people being at the centre of that. People fascinate me – what drives them, motivates them and engages them, and how it’s people who drive performance and success of an organisation.

You've been at KFC for a while now. What keeps you motivated?
There are a number of things but let me summarise it to two key motivators: The first is culture – KFC allows be to be my best self, have fun while having the space to make a difference in my space with the support and encouragement of leaders and colleagues; and the second is growth and development – KFC has focused on my personal growth and development through the work I get to do, projects I get to lead, through open and honest feedback and opportunities to attend various development programs that not only have added to my technical knowledge but build my personal brand.

What do you love the most about your job?
I love that no one day is the same, that I get to engage with highly talented people where there is mutual respect and appreciation for diverse thinking.

What metrics would you use to measure success at KFC?
Employee engagement is great to work stats: turnover; bench; length of service; customer complaints and sales.

What do the most successful new hires do in their first month at KFC?
They do in-store training – which applies to everyone. I truly believe this sets them up for success to understand our business more.

What is the company culture like at KFC?
KFC is a place where you get to be your best self, make a difference and have fun. It’s a place that celebrates diversity and drives an inclusive working environment.

What is the biggest challenge the team has faced in the past year?
Covid-19! Like most organisations I’m sure, the onset of Covid meant we needed to very quickly change our ways of working to ensure the health and safety of our people, including our customers, service providers and the likes thereof while ensuring that we could operate effectively and successfully.

What is big on the agenda at the moment at KFC?
From an HR perspective, it’s focused on three key areas: culture and talent, capability and driving relevance and ease.

What is most important to your organisation – mission, vision or values?
The most important to us is to be the most loved quick service restaurant (QSR) Brand.

What superpower do you wish you would have and why?
The superpower to get it done – being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend etc. I’d like the power to be able to juggle everything with lots of time on hand to enjoy life’s journey.

Would you rather have no phone access for a year or no car access?
No car access – I can walk, a phone allows me to stay connected to my family and friends.

If you could master any sport overnight, what would the sport be?
Tennis – it’s my childhood love, with a gap in playing, I need to master the game.