In this week’s Meet & Greet interview, Swapi CEO Pete Howroyd talks to myGwork about workplace equality and LGBTQ+ inclusion, and the importance of inspiring and ensuring that every voice is heard. He also shares some sound advice on setting up a start-up, his ‘hands-off’ leadership approach, as well as some insights into his work and social life.
myGwork: Tell us about your career journey and why you started Swapi?
Pete: I have spent my entire career working in customer loyalty with businesses such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols, MYER & Sigma Healthcare. Throughout my career I’ve seen little innovation in the retail loyalty sector and with that in mind, it was clear that the modern loyalty plan was struggling for engagement and that the customer was looking for something different. It’s a simple, yet effective, idea and it came out of the experience of lockdown and its devastating effect on global retail.
Research shows that the average UK consumer has £47 worth of loyalty rewards sitting unused on their card, totalling £6 billion in the UK and $360 billion globally. This is the result of poor engagement between brand loyalty schemes which are lacking in innovation and poor rewards for customers. The core idea for Swapi came as I started thinking about ways of tackling these problems and freeing that money for the retail economy in a way that would benefit both the retailer and the consumer; and out of that came Swapi. It provides customers with more spending power, as well as a greater incentive to spend.
myGwork: Have you always wanted to lead a company and why?
Pete: Yes. I’ve held various leadership roles in my career working for large corporate businesses and by doing so have learnt what I believe is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from other leaders and their working styles. The time came for me to step out of my corporate positions and put all my experience to good use by building an organisation which takes away all of the bits we hate about corporate life. Swapi is actually the second business I founded. The first is called The Loyalty People, which is still going but managed by a new MD. It’s an agency helping brands to create loyalty and CRM strategies for their customers. This gave me my first opportunity to lead a small company and get the skills of ‘how to start a business’, which is like a minefield at the best of times.
myGwork: How would you describe your leadership style?
Pete: My style of leadership is very ‘hands off’. I learned a long time ago that by trying to manage everything yourself gets you nowhere; and I see this happening in many companies today which ultimately makes employees who want to grow and evolve very unhappy and dissatisfied. At Swapi everyone has full autonomy to do their job to their very best using their expertise. I am always on hand to talk to each and every one of our employees; we make it clear right from interview stage that there is no status or hierarchy at Swapi and that each and every person is equal. We do of course have different titles, reporting lines and pay grades, which are based on experience and performance; but we inspire everyone to have a voice and be heard. Nobody is respected more or less because of their position in the company; this is something I am very passionate about having worked for many companies where status is part of business culture. It’s not how we want to do things at Swapi and we don’t employee people with this mentality. I like to think of Swapi as owned by all of us and therefore we all have relevant ideas and suggestions to help make it grow. In fact, we need it to be this way as I don’t have enough ideas on my own.
myGwork: What attributes do you look for when promoting/hiring employees in your company?
Pete: First and foremost, we look at cultural fit. There’s no point in hiring someone who is amazing at their job if they will kill our unique culture with the wrong attitudes. I’ve interviewed many candidates who are great on paper and can do the job with their eyes closed, but I just can’t see them working in our culture. I care too much about the people we have onboard to allow someone to rock the boat; even if they are an overachiever. Of course, we look at experience and expertise, but let’s be honest we are not trying to split atoms; so I would rather get a candidate who fits perfectly with our culture, even if we need to polish up their experience a little. And in most cases you can find a diamond.
myGwork: How do you successfully motivate your employees?
Pete: I motivate people by giving them space to be who they want to be and to work autonomously until they need support. Each and every person knows they can carve out a unique role and career at Swapi; there are no rules and no ceilings. We don’t care how old you are, what gender you are, or what religion you are; if you are kicking ass at Swapi you will be promoted. We work in a creative industry, and we like to inspire this from each and everyone’s role by ensuring people feel comfortable to share ideas; and ensuring they know they can make a difference to the future of Swapi.
myGwork: How important is lgbtq+ inclusion in the workplace to you?
Pete: Having had first-hand experience of severe bullying because I was gay, this is very important to me. However, it is equally important to me as different religious beliefs, genders and any other types of people and views. At Swapi I am building an organisation where there is no bias towards anyone. There is no place for anything other than equality at Swapi. We have an open culture where people can be what and who they want to be with no questions asked. I’m proud that although we have a relatively small team we already have a diverse range of people, beliefs and backgrounds who make Swapi as colourful as we want it to be.
myGwork: How are you personally promoting inclusion in the workplace?
Pete: My belief is that many issues with bad culture around inclusion in the workplace come from the top; and therefore I think its my role as the leader of Swapi to ensure that everyone feels comfortable working here whoever they are. I’m creating a culture where everyone feels comfortable talking to me and other directors the same as they would their peers. I share my own challenges in my career when I can; and I try to help everyone as much as I can, to make sure everyone sees each other as humans rather than managers and employees. I don’t care if you are an assistant, manager or director; for me everyone is the same and therefore each person’s opinion is equal too. It’s not an easy task though, especially when the corporate world trains people in a different way. But I hope that by creating a space where things are different, we can grow talent and expertise in a more fruitful way who go on to make a positive impact in other organisations (eventually).
myGwork: What was the last book you read (fiction/non-fiction)? Any interesting take-aways and would you recommend it to fellow leaders?
Pete: This is going to be a short answer as I don’t really read books (shock horror!). The last book I read is called ‘Venture Deals’ by Fled Mendelson. To anyone who is not interested in start-ups, funding or VCs this will be the most boring book you have every picked up, so don’t read it. However, I found it very useful as it helped me to navigate my way around some negotiations when looking for investors in Swapi, so if you are looking for some hand tips when starting out then get yourself a copy!
myGwork: What's your all-time favorite movie/show – and how many times have you watched it?
Pete: Can I mention a few? For films I would say the Alien Trilogy. I just loved it from been a kid and must have watched it about 20 times. You can’t beat Sigourney Weaver driving the yellow robot shouting ‘Get away from her you bi*ch’! at the nasty alien. And for TV shows I have to state two: ‘Billions’ and ‘Suits’. I’ve watched all the episodes of both of these shows three times. Weirdly I find them quite inspiring and I always have a great day at work after I’ve watched them. I also am a sucker for getting stuck watching episodes in a long series until 3am.
myGwork: What's your most favorite holiday destination to date?
Pete: I absolutely love Australia, so much so that after I visited, I moved to Melbourne for four years. I can’t wait to go back next year as we are actually looking at setting up a Swapi office there. I find the place is so beautiful, especially in the mountains and coast. I find that the way of life is nice and chilled versus the UK at times; and it helps to put things into perspective. There’s so much of the country I never visited, so I hope to tick a few more places off my list soon.
myGwork: What do you do to unwind?
Pete: I have a very special tool which helps me unwind called Sheba. She’s a one-year-old Labrador who requires walking non-stop. So I go on three or four walks daily in the countryside where we live. It helps me sort through what’s in my mind every day, whilst having the best mate that anyone could ask for. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Sheba I don’t think I would have made so much progress to date with Swapi.
Pete will also be speaking at our virtual global WorkPride 2022 Conference this year. Click here to sign up and find out more.
You can check out Pete’s full profile and connect with him here.