Top Women in Global Exhibition 2019: Kathryn Pritchard and Carol Welch, Odeon Group

Earlier this year, Boxoffice partnered with Celluloid Junkie to present the fourth annual list of Top Women in Global Cinema, published in our CinemaCon issue. Throughout 2019, Boxoffice will continue to honor the women who have an immeasurable impact on the exhibition industry with a series of in-depth profiles.

Kathryn Pritchard, Group Chief People Officer & Director of Strategic Programs, ODEON Group

Although a relative newcomer to cinema, having joined Odeon in 2015 from the U.K. government, Kathryn Pritchard has made quite the impression. 2018 was a busy year for Odeon, and Pritchard’s work saw her win numerous awards in her time with the company. She is responsible for developing the company’s business strategy and has reinvigorated Odeon’s workforce. She also has an MBA and a master’s in leadership coaching. In May, Pritchard left Odeon to explore other opportunities.

Carol Welch, Managing Director, ODEON Group Cinemas

Carol Welch has had a busy year. Not only has she overseen the adding of a further nine ODEON Luxe cinemas to their burgeoning portfolio, including the famous ODEON Luxe Leicester Square just before Christmas, but she also found time to be appointed a Non-Executive Director of Hammerson PLC and fulfil her commitments to the UK Cinema Association (UKCA).

What is the biggest challenge facing exhibition in 2019?

Kathryn Pritchard: The biggest challenge is making every cinema visit feel special for every guest. Lifelong personal memories are made in the cinema. Yet, we operate at scale and pace. Ensuring the experience isn’t just transactional or perfunctory is vital. That means every guest touch point needs to be delivered with care and attention, and that’s tough. 

Carol Welch: I only see opportunities. Our focus at Odeon is ensuring we provide every guest with the best experience whilst they enjoy watching one of the fabulous films from our distribution partners. In a world where the “small screen” is so much a part of our daily lives, the opportunity cinema has is to whisk guests away to immerse themselves in their choice of movie. From The Favourite to Avengers: Endgame to Rocketman, there is nothing quite like being treated to the full big-screen experience. Our role is to up our game every time, so guests come back to share their immersive experience with others!

What’s your proudest achievement from your time so far at Odeon?

KP: I have so many. In the last four years we have cracked top decile OHI (Organizational Health Index). We’ve won so many awards, and we launched our first diversity strategy. But the thing I’m most proud of is the teams we’ve built and the careers I’ve watched flourish. Nothing beats watching someone brilliant hone their skills and become more brilliant. It’s what gets me up in the morning. They’re too many people to mention, but I hope they all know just how proud I am of them. 

CW: I have two. The first is the success of Odeon Luxe, our recliner cinema experience. This required the efforts of many, many people, and the response from our guests has been fantastic every time.

The second is seeing the talent in our business grow. Due to the launch of the “Bright Lights” and “Our Incredible Differences” programs, we now have a more diverse set of leaders than ever before. Long may they continue to flourish.

How would you evaluate the progress women have made in the exhibition business in the past few years?

KP: We have more women in leadership roles than we did four years ago but, like many organizations, we don’t have a true meritocracy yet. And that’s the ultimate goal in all sectors, because it’s a meritocracy that drives business performance; it means the most capable people get chosen for any job. Unfortunately I still see fabulous women whose careers are progressing more slowly than their male counterparts. The reasons are complex, but it needs sustained effort to rectify. And frankly it needs men, who currently hold the roles and power, to make a difference, to act with women to bring about change. 

CW: Progress is definitely there—two of the five MDs at ODEON Cinema Group are female and there are three women on our UK&I board, but progress could and should be faster. For a healthy business, the diversity of our guest base should be reflected in the leaders that run it. The exciting thing for me is the diversity of leaders coming up through the business at the next level. It’s vital that we create the right environment for a far greater diverse set of leaders in future. 

Tell us about your mentors in this business.

KP: I’m influenced by so many people. I love working with people who’ve been in the industry a long time—[Odeon’s] Juan Antonio Gomez, Duncan Reynolds, Martin Waller, Ben Richardson, Gary Suter, Jason Coles—but I’ve also had two great bosses, Mark Way and Paul Donovan, who have allowed me to grow and develop. Both trusted me to do things I hadn’t done before, and that’s gold dust for any career.

CW: I’m lucky in that I have a broad range of mentors from industries I have worked in before exhibition—FMCG and retail—alongside the cinema and leisure business. I think it’s important to always have a set of mentors with broad experiences and reflective styles that you can call on for different types of advice. It’s also important to pay this forward to others!

What advice would you give to women just entering the movie exhibition business?

KP: Define your purpose, know what drives you, and then build teams that can help you deliver that. Invest time building trusting relationships. Leaders achieve very little alone, so give credit to those who deserve it. And pace yourself. Despite the way it feels, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

CW: Place the guests and your teams at the heart of your decision making. Be bold, trust your instincts, and have fun—we are in the entertainment industry!

What are the key accomplishments you would still like to make during your time at Odeon?

KP: I’d like to see the legacy of what I’ve built carried forward. We’ve built a culture any business would envy. It has award-winning elements all across it. I’d like to see those endure and evolve. 

CW: We are on an incredibly exciting journey and have a long road ahead to achieve everything we would like to. Following the relaunch of our flagship Odeon Luxe Leicester Square last year, we are continuing to launch Luxe cinemas and our new concession offers. We have just entered an exciting partnership with Vista, our new technology partner, and we have some fabulous and diverse talent moving up through our business. We still have much to do! 

Tell me about the most important lesson you learned while you were starting out in this industry.

KP: To listen better. To not assume that cinema is like retail or hospitality or any other analogous industry, but to listen to people who know it best and understand its unique drivers. And then use that insight to inform how to change it and make it better. 

CW: Listen intently and reflect carefully on what you hear. But also to trust your instincts.

Describe your ideal moviegoing experience.

KP: Odeon Luxe in Lee Valley with my goddaughters on a Saturday afternoon. Because they’re still little, and they’re always so excited about the ice blast and recliners!

CW: Going to the cinema was a memorable family experience to share as a kid, so I love giving my kids the same. Bohemian Rhapsody with my husband and two boys was a really big night out. Combos and a glass of wine, Luxe recliner seats, a great experience, and my 13-year-old being Freddie Mercury in front of the mirror for the next week. What’s not to love! 

Can you describe a formative moviegoing experience from your childhood?

KP: I remember queueing to watch Snow White in Bracknell with my mum. The excitement was enormous. I also remember watching E.T. fly through the sky and believing it was real!

CW: Saturday Night Fever—a special daughter and dad bonding moment watching a very grown-up film.

What can companies like Odeon do to encourage diversity and increased representation within the exhibition industry?

KP: It’s very simple: Hire more women for jobs they may not quite be ready for. We’re rarely completely ready for big career moves, but I see more men being given the opportunities. Maybe men create them, maybe they’re encouraged—I’m not sure—but they’re no more ready than the women. The phrase equal opportunity needs to be applied at face value. Let more women have a go! 

CW: I firmly believe that we must always try to provide the right environment and support, taking risks on people with potential and building their confidence. They may just surprise you!

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