Emma Woods’ CV is punctuated with all sorts of impressive experiences, including roles at Unilever, PizzaExpress and Merlin Entertainments, but her first role as a CEO came at stylish, Japanese-inspired restaurant chain, Wagamama, in 2018. This coincided with The Restaurant Group’s acquisition of Wagamama, and would extend throughout the turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having built what Andy Hornby, CEO of The Restaurant Group, described as the ‘highest ever’ level of morale – whilst maintaining market-leading performance – the leadership qualities Emma displayed during this period were recognised in 2021 when she was named Retailers’ Retailer of the Year.

As one of the best in the business when it comes to building, managing, and motivating teams, and with a keen personal interest in promoting inclusivity, we were excited to hear Emma’s Three Things – three pieces of actionable advice CEOs can use – for building diverse, inclusive leadership teams at our latest Three Things event, held in partnership with CMS.


Emma Wood’s CV

1990-2007: Marketing Director Unilever

2008-2013: Group Marketing Director – Pizza Express

2013-2017: Group Marketing and Digital Director –Merlin Entertainments

2017-2018: Various – Wagamama

2018-2021: CEO – Wagamama

2016-Present: NED & Chair – Various

number 1

Prioritise the design of your culture.

“Spend time codifying what your culture is,” she said. “Think about how you can nurture those ingredients in terms of who you bring in, but also in terms of the rhythms and rituals you use to celebrate that culture. It’s what gets your team out of bed in the morning and, particularly in tough times like during Covid, will ensure they give discretional effort.”

number 2

Don’t just hire your likeness.

“You have to be thinking of diversity when you’re recruiting,” Emma clarified. “Recruit different types of people, because the more difference there is in a team, the more everyone feels comfortable and gives their whole self.” This is vital if your teams are to outperform themselves, which is necessary for optimum growth and development.

number 3

Take regular, independent temperature checks.

“How do you know if you have happy and fulfilled teams?” asked Emma. “The simple answer is that you have to ask them. You have to provide a way for your team to tell you about their problems and concerns honestly. Whilst we all hate online surveys, there are some really good services like Culture Amp (link) who do some fantastic pulse surveys.” She continued to divulge that the best businesses she’s worked in would regularly check in with their teams. “You have to be prepared to ask when you don’t know the answer.”

* * *

Watch a full recording of Emma’s Three Things speech on our Youtube channel. Is your business affected by an issue similar to those discussed in this article? Apply to All Together today for up to 5 hours of pro bono advice from one of Britain’s leading CEOs.