Becoming CEO during a pandemic: An interview with our Chief Exec

Becoming CEO during a pandemic: An interview with our Chief Exec

9 March 2021

Peter Headridge’s induction into the role of CEO at Campden BRI has been the ultimate baptism of fire. He took on the top position of leadership at our organisation at the start of 2021 – just as the UK was once again thrown into lockdown.

Having spent a year as COO, he was already acquainted with Campden BRI’s capabilities. But the reality of the health crisis has meant that, despite his many years’ experience gained after a successful career at the Kellogg company, new challenges regularly present themselves, providing the ultimate test of leadership.

As the science writer at Campden BRI, I caught up with Peter to find out how he’s found his first couple of months as CEO.

So tell us Peter, what’s it like to take on the leadership of an organisation like Campden BRI while in the depths of a pandemic?

“Well I’ll begin with how amazed I’ve been at the resilience of our people and the essential services that we provide to our members. But most of all it’s how I’ve seen the organisation adapt; this has shown great agility during a time that many are finding things difficult.

I’ve always been a firm believer that out of adversity comes opportunity. It’s those organisations that can think innovatively, adapt their behaviours and react quickly that truly succeed. I’ve been fortunate to join people at Campden BRI who think the same way, and this is how we’ve adapted to the current climate so quickly.

Moving our face-to-face training and events to an online platform has been the perfect example of this as we’ve been able to provide our high-quality training to a global audience. I’m also particularly excited about our suite of Covid-19 services, including PCR-based workplace testing.”

Having had a lengthy career at Kellogg’s, what motivated you to join Campden BRI?

“The biggest pull came from the appeal of working across multiple food and beverage categories, beyond cereals and baking, with lots of diverse companies and experts. I’d actually worked with Campden BRI during my time at the Kellogg company, and I received my advanced HACCP training here some years ago so the organisation already held a place dear to my heart.

The people here have always inspired me. We have many deep technical experts that are at the very top of their game. I feel incredibly humbled and honoured to be given the opportunity to lead a company that is steeped in history and known worldwide for its technical capability. Every day when coming to work I feel proud that I’ll spend some of it alongside such knowledgeable and passionate colleagues.

Having previously been on the receiving end of services provided by Campden BRI, I knew I could bring my commercial background to help the organisation become more client and member focused. In previous roles, what I needed was a strategic partner to co-create solutions, be that an innovation pipeline or international regulatory support. That’s what I want to bring out at Campden BRI.”

What unique challenges have you come across so far due to the pandemic?

“Overcoming the challenges of staff isolation has been one of the greatest hurdles as mental health and wellness is incredibly important, especially at a time like this. It is for this reason that I’ve placed a lot of focus on supporting staff where I can during my first couple of months as CEO.

As part of the national Time to Talk Day, we recently encouraged staff to reach out to a colleague to discuss, well anything they like, whether that be mental health or the weather. Sometimes just having a chat about anything other than work can help, especially now with many of us being isolated in lockdown and possibly feeling lonely.”

Which developments are you most excited about in your new role?

“Our new three-year growth strategy is very exciting, especially now that we’re deploying it across the company. We’re also adding new roles to the business to support this strategy.

More recently we relaunched our research programme to bring greater value to our members in different ways. It will feature shorter turnaround projects that respond quickly to developing trends, collaborative projects with academic institutions to build new tools and services, and a talent pipeline.”

What is your leadership style and how do you think it will help deliver Campden BRI’s strategy?

“My leadership style is to be visible. It’s not just about talking the talk behind a desk. As clichéd as it sounds, I believe it’s about being a servant leader. As a company that has a clear mission and strategy, it’s my job to cascade it throughout the company so that everyone understands the role they play.

From your many years of experience in the industry, what insights do you bring to Campden BRI?

“Coming from industry, I know that companies are looking at the megatrends for the next ten years and often deciding what innovative products to develop next. For example, in recent years there’s been major research into the gut microbiome and its connection with health and wellness, and personalised nutrition is another key area of interest. But what does this mean for our diets? How can we improve our gut microbiomes through food? These are the questions that the industry needs answering and now is an exciting time where we can partner with our members, academia and the Government to help answer them.”

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