A Day at Merlin Entertainments


Tea Colaianni always thought internationally. "As a girl I wanted to be the Italian Ambassador to Singapore and during my law degree I chose international law topics," says Tea, who was born and brought up in Bari, on the Italian Adriatic.

Tea is now Group Human Resources Director at Merlin Entertainments, in Poole, Dorset, responsible for 20,000 staff at 98 visitor attractions, including brands such as LEGOLAND, SEA LIFE Centres, the London Eye and Madame Tussauds, across four continents. Tea joined Merlin in 2010 from Hilton Hotels Corporation, where she was Vice-President Human Resources, Europe, UK and Ireland, responsible for HR in 26 countries. Before this she held senior HR roles in companies operating across Europe, and lived in Brussels and Oxford.

Tea’s day starts with international emails.

"I wake up at 6.15 to the sound of the sea - our house is five minutes from the beach, just as my childhood home was. First I clear any overnight emails because Merlin operates in 22 countries. Then I do gentle stretches to counteract back problems. Good ideas often come to me in the shower. If something is worrying me, my brain often sorts it out then.

For breakfast I have Weetabix, Cheerios, mini-Weetabix and fresh blueberries, all in the same dish. It sounds odd but it helps keep up my energy all morning and keeps me away from pastries and cakes. I used to have just Cheerios but I found I was ravenous by 11. Oddly for an Italian, I never drink coffee - my mum still can't believe it. In the past I've worn black Armani suits to work but I’ve started wearing dresses and more colourful clothes because Merlin is rather less formal than some companies and you rarely see anybody wearing a suit.

The 15 minute drive to the office gives me time to chat with my two children, aged eight and six, before dropping them at school and to call my mum in Italy. I owe a lot to my mother. She brought me up to be independent, to work hard and not to rely on a man. Sometimes I still struggle with self-confidence at work.  After I won the HR Director of the Year award last year I arrived in the office to applause and flowers - it was my proudest day but a bit embarrassing at the same time because all eyes were on me.  Now I have to live up to it.

My advice to other women is to tell that little voice inside that says they are not good enough to shut up.

I also remember the way Margaret Thatcher told an EU summit renegotiating the UK's budget contribution, 'I want my money back'. She got the rebate she was after, because of the assertive and uncompromising way she asked. When I want something I remember that. It's helped me in my law studies, in business and in life.

By 8.45am I'm at work and chatting with my PA, Sarah, to find out what's happening. For the first hour I deal with incoming issues. I note down one or two top priorities that must be achieved - often the result of decisions made in the shower. An hour setting priorities is very helpful.

My PA organises my day. I have meetings with my HR team, headhunters, other directors, and take international conference calls - Merlin continues to expand internationally at a very quick pace - until lunchtime. We block off an hour for lunch to give me time to eat and catch up. We are trialling meeting-free Fridays too. Back-to-back meetings leave no time to read, reflect and think about long-term issues.

My favourite lunch - a salad with nuts, lentils and beans, then fresh fruit - keeps my energy up all afternoon. Before I started a new eating regime a year ago I always craved sweet things around 3pm.

The afternoon means more meetings, international calls and presentations until I leave about 7.00pm, though one or two days a week I'm in London for meetings with external businesses and once a month I travel internationally.

I also fit in time to work with the Women's Leadership Group of The Prince's Trust, which helps disadvantaged young women progress and develop. I'm not the sort that runs marathons or goes skydiving but I want to help women progress, so I've raised £10,000 by organising a fund raising spa day and by simply asking for contributions.

I'm home by 7.30pm and am playing with the children or helping with homework. My husband cooks dinner - he criticised my cooking once too often so now he does it himself, with my occasional help. Then I catch up with News 24, read articles on my i-Pad, or legal thrillers - I'm hooked on Rebecca Forster's books.

By 9.30pm I'm in bed - sometimes asleep even before the children!"