Case Study: Peter Wood, CEO, AllSaints – Wavelength USA

Wavelength USA is an immersive leadership programme that typically attracts C-Suite leaders from across Asia, Europe, Middle East and North America from a broad array of sectors. It presents a rare opportunity for leaders to step outside of their familiar surroundings, gaze upwards and cross-pollinate ideas with peers with vastly different perspectives.  We spoke to one of the most recently returned cohort, Peter Wood, CEO of AllSaints about his experiences on the programme and why getting out of the world of fashion has led to a whole range of unexpected benefits – and lifelong connections.

Peter has been at AllSaints for 13 years, joining initially as the CFO with a robust background in finance, and became the CEO five years ago. He says that people often assume he will be a “numbers guy” but he believes the numbers are the outputs that are the results of what the team puts in and so the number he is most focused on is “how many of our team love their jobs”. Smart: given the correlation between workplace satisfaction and productivity. As he says,

“When I became CEO, I was asked lots of questions such as ‘how big do you want to be? What’s your profit target? How many countries do you want to be in?’ And I said ‘My number one KPI is, how many of our team love their jobs?’ So I’m very focused on the culture of the business and as CEO, my number one priority is to create an environment where everyone wants to be at their best for the brand.”

It’s an approach that’s paid off in the numbers: AllSaints had its best year in history last year. AllSaints posted its best ever annual sales and profits for the year-ended 28 January 2023. Sales at the fashion retailer grew by 36% to £457m for the period as profits swelled 50% to £58.6m.

WhatsApp-Image-2023-11-16-at-11.40.13-768x548.jpegPeter points out that going on the Wavelength US programme was not a light or quick decision. At the time he met the Wavelength team, the country was in lockdown; the retail industry had been decimated and uncertainty was the feeling of the day.  Flying overseas didn’t feel responsible. But fast-forward a couple of years when the country was reeling less, he spoke with the Wavelength team about the experience and he learnt about the calibre of other attendees – household names from other sectors outside of the fashion bubble – he was quickly convinced it was the right decision for him, and the business.

Being alongside a cohort and meeting leaders from organisations that included Amazon, Airbnb, Four Seasons, LinkedIn and Meta, was an opportunity too good to miss. At a time when corporate competitive advantage can be achieved through the adoption and application of new technologies, meeting peers at the forefront of these was a deal-breaker.

In a role where invitations come thick and fast, Peter has to be discerning:

“The scale of the organisations and the calibre of the individuals who were presenting with the organisations is what really attracted me”.

WhatsApp-Image-2023-11-16-at-12.05.59-e1701768511260.jpegWhilst the group all had different backgrounds, their shared seniority was such that it short-cutted the preamble and immediately allowed for more meaningful conversations from the start. Despite different backgrounds, routes to leadership and industries, they were all there with a similar vantage point. For Peter that was “really positive”.

Peter had a fairly good idea of what to expect from the week-long immersion and was most keen to understand more about new and emerging technologies explored in conversation and in the site visits  – particularly Artificial Intelligence.

This trip was a huge “call to action” for him, as CEO, to have a clear perspective on AI: one that could be articulated throughout the organisation and adopted by the teams. As he says,

“I needed to have a point of view on all of this. Our brands needed to have a point of view and that was a big step forward in my mindset”.

If there was one  “Eureka moment” on the course, this realisation was the one: that a strong point of view really matters. He has since implemented all kinds of initiatives across AllSaints to future-proof the organisation. For the business and its employees, AI now feels far less daunting and much more of a business opportunity.

When asked what the most rewarding part of the immersive leadership trip to the USA was, Peter doesn’t hesitate. It’s, without doubt, the affirmation and validation he now feels. As he says, (keen to point out that it’s not meant as a brag):

“I came away with a great sense of encouragement for the things that I’m doing for our business. A sense of validation, when I was visiting these big companies and hearing similar challenges…and I was like ‘that’s good. I think I’m on the right track here”…Even on the thorny and complex issue of AI.

Exploring new technologies in Silicon Valley from AI, to robotics, to autonomous robot taxis, has reinforced Peter’s belief that we are underestimating the power of the next generation and the exponential changes they’ll see in their lifetime. He relays an amusing story where his young daughter tried to swipe right on the plasma TV at home expecting a new programme to pop up!  It’s a funny but prescient anecdote – and one that CEOs should constantly stay alert to.

WhatsApp-Image-2023-11-16-at-11.49.17-e1701768460290-768x488.jpegPeter admits that it can feel quite lonely at the top. But on this USA trip he felt the comfort of being amongst other people running organisations. In fact, on the day we spoke with Peter, two of the cohort were turning up in his office for drinks later to talk about wide-ranging topics including work, family and life.

Our final question for Peter was, How did he feel after the trip?  “Energised”  he says.  The energy during our chat is palpable. For the first time in a while, he “wasn’t watching movies on the flight home”.  Instead he used the time to develop a point of view on AI for AllSaints and identify all the different areas of the business where AI could help. He’s excited, as are his team,  by the potential outcomes here for AllSaints as an organisation. If everyone is as energised and stimulated as he is after his US trip, this could mean even better results for the business!

If you’d like to find out more about the Wavelength USA Study Tour planned for June 2024, do get in touch with Annabelle or Adrian.

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