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How I Got Here: James Watts

How I Got Here: James Watts

Published 04-26-24

Submitted by Yum! Brands

James Watts and the Pizza Hut logo

In the #HowIGotHere series, you’ll read about the career paths of some of the world-renowned leaders at Yum! Brands. Learn more about James Watts, Global Chief People & ESG Officer at Pizza Hut in this installment.


  • The Windsor Boys’ School 
    Windsor, Berkshire, United Kingdom (1991– 1996)
  • Buckinghamshire New University 
    Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom (1993 – 1997)

If we were to interview your teachers, what would they say about you?

I was loud, over-active and always thinking about being on the football pitch. I did well without trying but could have done better if I really applied myself.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

It was a close call between a football player and an author of fantasy novels, as I was (and still am) a bizarre combination of athlete and fantasy/science fiction nerd.


First Job: I was a ride operator at a theme park called Thorpe Park in West London where I grew up. I’m hugely grateful for my time there, learning lessons in leadership that I still lean on today such as leading a team, people skills, dealing with difficult situations, coaching and emotional intelligence. I also gained an appreciation for people who work in front-line roles and that has stayed with me my entire career.

  • Merlin Entertainment (previously ‘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 work/life balance?

I believe in finding a way to blend the things that are most important to you to make yourself most effective. I’ve learned over the years that I need four slices to my personal "pizza of life:" – 1) my family 2) my career 3) my hobbies 4) the ability to give back. If I have the right blend of them all, I’m going to be at my best and most impactful. I don’t always get the balance right, and that’s fine for a period of time, but I need to be intentional about protecting the time I need to do all four over the course of a year if I’m going to be fulfilled and effective.

What moments, or who, in your life influenced the way you work?

The Tussauds Group

I am grateful for the opportunity to advance from a ride operator at an amusement park to an office job with the parent company. The company paid for me to go back to university and study human resources after I didn’t follow a traditional route into higher education. I learned lessons in leadership like dealing with difficult situations and emotional intelligence.

Cultural Blend

My dad is from north London. My mum was one of eight siblings from the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent in The Grenadines who immigrated and married people from all over the world, so my childhood was a wonderful blend of different cultures, food and perspectives. My wife is Indian, and my 14-year-old daughter was born in the U.S. and happily identifies as "Br-Ameri-Indian." This and spending the last 15 years in global roles, travelling to more than 45 countries, has taught me that immigration, blended families, inclusion and freedom of identity are wonderful things that make our lives richer, that our differences should be celebrated and that we’re more similar than we are different.


This book by Hector Garcia discusses the Japanese secret to a long and happy life, and I've applied its principles to how I balance my career and my home.

What do people think you do versus what you actually do?

My family has no real idea of what I do regardless of how many times I try to explain it, but they think it has something to do with hiring people.

What is the best piece of advice that you've been given?

When I took on my first role on a Leadership Team as the Chief People Officer of KFC, on my first day in 2012, my new boss, Martin Shuker, the General Manager, gave me some great advice that has stuck with me to this day. Recognizing straight away that I was an over-enthusiastic mix of anxiety and imposter syndrome he simply said to me ‘don’t worry about trying to be the leader you think the company wants you to be, just be yourself – because that’s all I want you to be’. It was just what I needed to hear at just the right moment.

What makes you happy?

Hearing my daughter sing.

Seeing my wife smile.

Hearing from restaurant general managers how they’ve changed the lives of their teams, working with my colleagues to help Pizza Hut win.

Doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

How do you do it?

Run towards the biggest challenges as that’s where you’ll make the biggest difference and learn the most. Be humble enough to ask for help and learn from those around you. If you’re the best in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.

Yum! Brands Logo

Yum! Brands

Yum! Brands

Yum! Brands, Inc., based in Louisville, Kentucky, has over 54,000 restaurants in more than 155 countries and territories, operating the Company’s brands – KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell – global leaders of the chicken, pizza and Mexican-style food categories. The Company’s family of brands also includes The Habit Burger Grill, a fast-casual restaurant concept specializing in made-to-order chargrilled burgers, sandwiches and more. Yum! Brands was named to the 2021 Dow Jones Sustainability Index North America and was ranked on Newsweek’s list of 2021 America’s Most Responsible Companies. In 2022, Yum! Brands was named to 3BL Media’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

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