HR Passion Series #4: Featuring Kelly Davis, SVP HR, Town Shoes Limited

HR Passion Series #4: Featuring Kelly Davis, SVP HR, Town Shoes Limited

July 16, 2018 | Rob Catalano

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Welcome to the fourth edition of our HR Passion Series, where we bring you insights, inspirations, experiences, and advice from prominent HR leaders.

We’ve reached out to and interviewed highly esteemed professionals who have been so kind as to share their experiences and thoughts with us in order to provide insights and inspiration across the field of HR.

We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Introducing our fourth guest: Senior Vice President – Human Resources, Customer Service & Communications at Town Shoes Limited – Kelly Davis.



The Interview


1. What was your journey coming up to your current HR role? Any milestone moments in your career?

I knew I wanted to be in HR when I was 16 years old. I was working at Hudson’s Bay Company and was inspired by one of their HR leaders at the time by the name of Bernadette McKenzie. When I left for University at McGill in Montreal I tried to build my school program around what would give me the best chance to get into HR so I studied Industrial Relations for my undergraduate program. Each summer that I was in University I had the opportunity to return to HBC and work in a different part of HR (Pensions & Benefits, Recruitment, Training & Development) which was very lucky as I got a lot of exposure to the world of HR before I was actually ready to work fulltime.

After University I moved to Vancouver to be with my boyfriend at the time who is now my husband and worked in HR with Eaton’s Department Stores. It was an interesting time. I ended up returning to Ontario, as Eaton’s was going through their bankruptcy and liquidation which provided a lot of tough but real lessons early in my HR career. I then had the great fortune to return to HBC where I was able to recruit all of the best talent over from Eaton’s.

I spent 12 years at HBC working in HR in Stores, the Corporate Office in a variety of union and non-union roles, corporate and field roles and generalist and specialist roles. When Richard Baker purchased the company I got some great U.S. experience leading the Total Rewards, Associate Relations and Programs area for all of HBC in Canada and Lord & Taylor in the U.S. In my last role with HBC I actually started up a consultant company within HBC aimed at offering small to mid-sized businesses HR support.

I was then recruited away to a new industry and joined Cara Operations where I spent two years learning the wonderful world of food services. I returned to Retail in 2012 and have been at Town Shoes Limited at that time although I will say it’s like I’ve worked for 4 companies in that time…we went from a family run business to private equity owned to half private equity/half owned by DSW Inc. (which is a public Company in the U.S.) to now fully owned by DSW.

Milestone Moments:

  1. Going through the bankruptcy/liquidation process with Eaton’s
  2. Moving into my first corporate role with HBC which was so different than being in a line role
  3. Having the chance to start up a consultant company with the protection/backing of a large company
  4. Getting to work through 4 different U.S. acquisitions with HBC and all of the cultural/work process change that came with that
  5. Having Cara Operations hire me away from HBC when I was 4 months pregnant.
  6. The most recent journey I’ve gone on at TSL of working through 4 very different environments in 5 years but all with one company.


2. As an HR leader, what keeps you up at night, rounding out 2018 and looking forward to the next year?

Growth of eCommerce – And how we need to continue to pivot and adapt to stay relevant as a shoe retailer

Integration – I am the Project Lead on our Integration with DSW Inc. in the U.S. which is the Company that just purchased us…wanting to ensure this is a smooth Integration for both sides of the border is a top priority

Metrics – Should our metrics as business and HR leaders be changing? Are comp store sales increases realistic anymore for retailers? Does associate turnover really matter in today’s world?

Social/Digital Growth – Are we modern enough…for our associates and our customers? Are we communicating and reaching people where and how we should be?


3. What are some elements of focus for your HR strategy in the coming 12 months?

Integration – Similar to above, successfully leading my team and Company through a great Integration with our new U.S. owners
Social/Digital Growth – the magic area where HR and Marketing intersect…how we are reaching our people both internally and externally

Purpose – We are very deep in our journey to be a Purpose Driven Company, everything we do from programs for our people to external philanthropic efforts is focused around this

Innovation – We need to stay more than relevant in innovative approaches to our people, culture, programs. All that we do is a big part of my Strategy

Diversity & Inclusion – This has always been important to us, however we want to do more things that are not check the box items but that actually are meaningful to our people and our customers to show our commitment


4. What advice would you give someone going into an HR leadership position for the first time?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are HR and that you need to work with the business as if the business is separate from you…as an HR leader you ARE a Business Leader first. HR and “the business” are not two separate things…they are one thing and you have a very important voice around the business. You need to think of yourself as a business leader first who works/specializes in HR.


5. Is there anything in your career you’re incredibly proud of?

The thing that I am the most proud of is how I’ve been fortunate enough to combine my day job with my volunteer work in the not for profit space. I serve as a Board Director and the Chair of the HR & Governance Committee for White Ribbon which is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. I approached my CEO 4 years ago to see if we could work around any potential conflicts and consider making this charity a focus for our Company. There was a natural alignment with the world of shoes as White Ribbon’s top fundraising event is “Walk A Mile In Her Shoes” where people of all genders are invited to walk a mile in high heels to raise money for the cause. I am proud to say that Town Shoes Limited has been the top fundraiser for 4 years and has raised over $200,000 for White Ribbon.

We also have started a very cool orange laces program where we sell orange laces in all of our stores across Canada and donate 100% of the proceeds to White Ribbon. We started all of this well before #metoo and all of the current issues in the media, but it has certainly become very front and center and we’ve had a lot of great attention from bloggers and influencers around this great campaign.


6. Is there anything you failed at? Any lessons learned?

I took on a Total Rewards portfolio that was beyond my experience at the time at Hudson’s Bay Company. I had a strong Benefits background but not a Compensation background. It was a tumultuous time for the Company and despite my commitment to learn I was over my head. I should have raised my hand and stated that it was too much for me as I had a long history with the Company but I was too worried about failing and how I would be perceived. It was a wonderful lesson to me that it is totally okay to be vulnerable and scared, and that as long as you are honest and transparent you will succeed.


7. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as an HR leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you?

I feel so fortunate in that I feel that I have several amazing mentors in my life. I have three ex bosses all of whom I am still in touch with and who give me wonderful coaching and guidance all of the time. Their names are Sheila Rider, Christine Foote, and Jennifer Pierce. In addition, when I left Cara Operations I had the opportunity to meet a woman named Lucy Vasic who was at Knightsbridge and is now at Arlington Partners. She runs their Executive Coaching practice but also informally she has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me throughout the last 5 years of my career.


8. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as an HR leader? any resources you’d recommend to HR colleagues?

I have a lot of areas that I want to continue to grow in. I am part of a wonderful group called the Strategic Capability Network which is a group of about 20 CHROs. We get together about 4-6 times a year for networking and learning and this group is very important to me. I would actually count all of my fellow members of this group also as mentors.

I sit on the Governing Committee for the HRPA CHRE Group and I learn a lot through them, and of course through my not for profit world as well. I also completed my H.R.C.C.C. designation a few years back, and I learned a ton through this and also met some wonderful people. This is another resource I would highly recommend to HR colleagues. I attended Globoforce’s Work Human Conference in Texas last year, and it was one of the very best conferences I’ve ever attended. I’m already signed up for 2019 and the location is Nashville! I highly recommend this as well! Finally I’m part of an HR Tequila Networking Group, but perhaps we should leave that part out?


9. When you win HR Executive of the year soon, what song do you want playing when you walk up to the stage?

Everyone in my family has a “theme song” and mine has always been “I Like To Move It, Move It” by Reel To Reel, so definitely this song!


10. What books or podcasts would you recommend to your HR peers?

I’m currently reading “7 Elements of Strategy Execution” which is written by a wonderful woman I have worked with through the years and highly recommend named Mona Mitchell. She is the President of AchieveBlue and does all of our Leadership 360 work.


11. Finally, give us three words that you would use to describe the HR profession.


A big thank you to Kelly, and stay tuned for our next HR Passion Series guest.



Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is WorkTango’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. Rob has spent the last 17 years building HR Technology companies.