How Aldi Australia’s Tremaine Spillane climbed the corporate ladder by never being afraid to ask ‘why’


Tremaine Spillane, Store Operations Director at Aldi. Source: Supplied.

Being responsible for 36 different Aldi stores and over 580 employees, Stapylton-based Aldi Australia store operations director Tremaine Spillane knows a lot about getting things to run smoothly.

Joining the German retailer straight out of uni in 2009, Spillane quickly climbed through the ranks at Aldi, including overseeing the construction of one of the company’s largest distribution centres in Brendale in 2015.

Having worked in a diverse array of industries and sectors in the business, Spillane says the thing she’s found most valuable is never being afraid to ask ‘why’, and trusting her instincts.

SmartCompany asked Spillane how she keeps up with the changing demands of her vast workforce, and how Aldi supports women in the workplace.

When did you join Aldi and what were you doing previously? How would you describe your journey with Aldi to date?

I joined Aldi as a trainee area manager in the Stapylton Region in 2009, straight out of university. While at university I worked as a manager in the retail industry.

I spent my first four years at ALDI as an area manager in Brisbane and was then provided with the opportunity to do a 12-month secondment as a logistics manager prior to taking on my new role as logistics director at Brendale. I launched and opened the Brendale Distribution Centre and then went on maternity leave when I had my daughter.

On my return, I took the role as logistics director of the Stapylton region before recently being offered to take on my current role as store operations director in Stapylton.

Over your 10 years with Aldi, what key pieces of advice have you been given? What do you think the most valuable thing is you have learnt?

I have been incredibly fortunate in my career that I have spent time as an area manager, logistics manager, logistics director and now a store operations director. This has allowed me to work with a wide range of leaders and teams.

The best advice I have been given is to be yourself, trust your instincts and never be afraid to ask ‘why’. Even after 10 years with the business, I am still learning new things every day and continue to push myself and my teams to challenge the status quo to ensure we are continually evolving and everything we do is still delivering the desired result.

My time in logistics taught me about supply chain, transport and warehousing, an entire industry I never thought I would experience. I have been able to experience the Adi business from two perspectives, which has led to a lot of personal and professional growth.

Now that I am back in store operations, I view things from a different angle than when I was an area manager and understand the capabilities each department has to drive for the best business outcomes. I am now in a position to provide that insight and perspective to my teams and influence the region to ensure we are always focused on a collaborative, business first approach.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

As a store operations director, I have a decentralised team of area managers who operate from Brisbane to Logan, out west to Toowoomba and Stanthorpe and anywhere in between.

Every day is different for me, but the majority of my role centres around supporting my team of area managers in leading and developing their teams, executing the business strategy, driving for results and coaching them to develop their careers.

Outside of this, it is addressing issues as they arise, proactively planning for the future and contributing to driving the national store operations strategy, which includes collaboration and consultation with all parts of the business.

The role is incredibly diverse, however, I love that every part of my role is centred around people, either my team, colleagues or external suppliers.

How does Aldi support women in the workplace?

Working for Aldi has meant that I have never felt that being a woman in the workplace has meant that I have had to adjust my style, approach or be treated any differently to my male counterparts.

Even when going into logistics, where the industry itself has less female representation, I have always felt that I have had the respect and equal voice that I deserve.

My advice to any women wanting to follow a similar career path would be simple:

  • Be true to yourself and your values, never compromise on who you are; and
  • What you put in is what you receive, so work hard, lead with integrity and never let an opportunity pass you by.

Don’t be afraid to have an opinion or voice, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel, if you are genuine and have the right intentions then nothing should hold you back.

What do you think could be done, more broadly in Australia, to support working parents?

Becoming a mum certainly changed my priorities from being completely career-focused to finding a balance between my career and being a parent.

I think it is important employers are providing working parents with the capacity to be able to fulfil both responsibilities, you shouldn’t have to compromise your career because you start a family.

How this is achieved may differ with each industry and individual but there should always be an open dialogue between employer and employee to achieve the best outcome for both parties.

I personally have been incredibly fortunate that Aldi has provided me with plenty of flexibility to be able to do both well. By having access to flexible working hours, mobile working so I can work from home when required and the autonomy to manage my working week to balance my work and personal commitments, I have been able to ensure I am giving both responsibilities the attention they deserve.

How do you make sure you and your team are constantly managing the changing needs of your workers?

It is vital that we as a team are completely in tune with our people and make every interaction count. It is imperative that we have close working relationships with our teams to understand how we can support them to deliver a positive working environment whilst ensuring we balance this with business objectives.

Open communication, transparency and honesty are paramount. Being agile with the changing needs of our employees is never easy, but when employees are engaged, supported and genuinely cared for, they give 110% every single day which ultimately leads to a productive, high-performance culture.

What are your best tips for managing a large team?

A large team can be a challenge but I truly believe that being authentic, truly listening to your people and openly communicating goals, challenges and expectations ensures the team is clear on the direction and aligned on how to get there.

Keeping in touch with reality, being visible and engaging in conversation with all levels of my team allows me to understand the momentum we are making towards each goal, adjust the approach if required and ultimately celebrate each milestone as they are achieved. The latter is certainly the best part of any leaders role!

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