Mike Theilmann Featured

Level Up: Next-Gen Leaders – Mike Theilmann

Forty-five percent of corporations have made advancing women into leadership roles a formal business priority.1 However, the pipeline tells a more complex story. Companies that have made advancing women a business priority see 19% higher revenue growth, a 16-point increase in employee retention, and a 9-point increase in overall workplace diversity. 1 Leaders such as Mike Theilmann, EVP and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) of Albertsons Companies, are actively working to solve the pipeline challenge while focusing on creating and mentoring the next generation of leaders.

What drove you to become a CHRO? What is it about this role that you love?

Becoming a Chief Human Resources Officer wasn’t something I ever thought about until I worked under a phenomenal CHRO, Gregg Dedrick.  It’s a role that can make impact on culture, talent, engagement—all things that feed the human spirit.

What do you find most challenging about being a CHRO in 2024?

Coming out of COVID, the “in-person” working structures have not yet returned. I like being with people in person to solve problems, help grow talent, and create relationships.

As you think about gender equity and inclusion in the workplace, what are your company’s ambitions and goals? 

Our goal at Albertsons Companies is to be a great place to work for everyone. The diversity of cultures, genders, ethnicities will make us a better company.

What do you consider to be some of the biggest challenges as you focus on the next generation of leaders?

I learned by working for and with peers and leaders. My role is not something you study in college. Each generation goes through a set of changes and growth—that’s the beauty of a multi-generational workforce. I think the future challenges are multi-dimensional. The use and understanding of technology are much more important now than ever and come with some societal issues. At the core, I believe people work for people—it is up to current leaders to develop the next generation. That hasn’t changed, and I don’t expect it to over the coming decade.

What’s one thing that you try to do every single day in your role? What’s one thing you try not to do?

One thing I try to do every day is connect with someone in the company that I may not know. I tend to reach out on a call or meet someone working in one of our stores. Their life stories are just fascinating and inspiring to me.

One thing I try not to do is surprise people—for example, everyone should know where they stand.

We’ve heard a lot about the importance of mentorship and sponsorship – what distinguishes one from the other, and do we need both?

We need both! Mentorship is sharing your gifts with others (that’s how I was developed) with the ambition to help others achieve their goals. Sponsorship is different—it is putting others forward for opportunities, both inside and outside of the company.

We’re reading a lot about DEI initiatives coming under fire, but broadly, we’re seeing that the business community still supports the underlying principle that diversity is good for business. What are your thoughts on the public conversation around DEI right now?

I don’t spend much time on the public conversation—things tend to get ‘political.’ My view has always been that the more diverse (and I use that in a broad way) the company is, the better it will be over time.

Research is showing that women are dropping out of the leadership pipeline, particularly early in their careers. What is your company doing to keep the pipeline flowing? 

It is a more recent challenge, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation of why women are departing more quickly. At Albertsons Companies, we are working to meet people where they are—I realize everyone has something challenging going on in their personal lives. That’s why a company needs to show its heart, be flexible, and wrap its arms around our people to support them.

What changes or programs that you’ve put into place are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the work the company did around ‘Purpose & Values.’ It created the bedrock of who we are, how we work together, and what we stand for. Plus, our Communications team won a big award for their creativity!

What is the most surprising or valuable thing you’ve ever learned from a next gen leader?

Learn.  Always be learning.

Let’s move on to some light-hearted questions so our NextUp community can get to know you better. How do you spend your plane time?

I spend a lot of time in planes—millions of miles flown.  I mainly work or listen to interesting podcasts.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Give up your career as an Actuary.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever done for your career? 

Picked the right leader to work under.

What’s something that you keep in your office purely because it makes your day better?  

Family pictures.

How do you feel about zoom calls – camera on or camera off? 

On…unless I’m on two calls at the same time.

Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever had to take a business call?

The Great Wall of China.

What’s the longest conference call you’ve ever been on?  

Probably one with my daughter!

Mike Theilmann will be speaking on the Bold Strategies for Building Next-Gen Leaders panel with Pamela Morris-Thornton, CHRO at Advantage Solutions, and Nicole Zube, CHRO of SpartanNash Nicole Zube, CHRO of and Pamela Morris-Thornton at the 2024 NextUp Executive Symposium and Forum on June 3-5th in Washington, D.C. To learn more about the event, please click here. Stay tuned for more CHROnicles from other HR executives who are actively working to solve pipeline challenges within their companies.

  1. IBM Institute for Business Value (2024)
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