CEO Chirag Patel on the challenges of 2021 and potential of 2022

Following his first full year as Pentland Brands CEO, Chirag Patel reflects on his biggest learnings from 2021, how our business has faced into the significant global challenges and what’s next for 2022.

What are your personal reflections as we come to the end of 2021?

My big reflection from this year is around resilience. When the pandemic started, we instituted new ways of working and pushed through barriers to keep the business moving.  20 months later, with numerous opportunities realised and challenges navigated, I’ve come to realise the difference between endurance – which can sustain us through short periods of adversity – and true resilience, which comes from rest and being able to switch off. New ways of working, enabled by ubiquitous technology, have made having time to recharge even more essential as work and home lives have blended. Creating a culture where our people are able to do other things that matter to them has never been more important.

What are your highlights from 2021?  

Despite the challenging environment we’ve been operating in our sales performance, across all three regions, has been really impressive. I’m particularly proud of the performance in our new Speedo North America business, as well as the promising growth in EMEA and Asia Pacific.

We’ve had incredibly strong brand performances from Endura and Berghaus, which reflects how people are choosing to spend more time outdoors. While we expected these activities to spike during lockdowns, a strong sales performance has been sustained in 2021; driven by new consumers who we hope to continue to serve in years to come.

Although the British & Irish Lions rugby tour took place without spectators, performance was positive. This speaks to the strength of the Canterbury brand, the incredible legacy of the Lions and the dedication of the fans.

I’m really proud that ellesse delivered the world’s first shoppable livestream concert with TikTok, with the campaign attracting 2.2 billion impressions worldwide. Speedo maintained its outstanding track record of helping elite athletes perform at their best in the pool, with 60% of gold medals won and all individual world records achieved in Speedo suits.

What were the biggest challenges in 2021?  

Along with most businesses, we experienced supply chain challenges as a result of the shipping crisis and new ways of working in Europe post-Brexit. It required us to learn on-the-go and to be agile but, throughout, our focus has been making sure the consumer is at the heart of our decision-making which, in many ways, makes complex decisions much easier.

Working with our new colleagues in California, we’ve navigated integrating the Speedo North America business into the Pentland Brands operating environment. It would have been an extraordinary accomplishment in any circumstances and I’m humbled by the achievement of our teams who have managed to do it almost entirely remotely.

How are you feeling about 2022?

We’ve had a strong year in terms of recovery in 2021 and that will serve as a platform for continued growth in 2022. The lessons we’ve learned over the last two years will help us navigate new challenges caused by the pandemic and global freight.

From a Positive Business perspective, we remain committed to taking action for people and our planet and in 2022 will continue to take action towards the 2032 goals set out in our 100-1-0 strategy. This year our brands supported over 1,000 charities, designed more products containing sustainable materials and planted six million trees to support biodiversity and reforestation, with another six million planned for 2022.

How do you see our ways of working evolving in 2022?

I think the pandemic has showed us that we can work incredibly effectively remotely, but also that we’re a business driven by creativity and collaboration, which is best achieved in person. We’ve long been supporters of flexible working and I’m sure we’ll continue to embrace flexibility between remote and office-based working for those roles that allow it.

I’m hoping that international travel will become easier in 2022. As a global business, we have been sustained by our unique culture but I’m looking forward to seeing our teams in Asia again as soon as it is practically possible.

What can we expect from the brands in 2022?  

Endura will be making an explosive entry into the mountain biking footwear market, which has come about through a combination of Pentland Brands’ historic footwear expertise and Endura’s unparalleled experience in the cycling category. I’m excited to see Speedo China grow share with younger consumers. Our teams are also looking forward to bringing the brand to the world’s stage once again at next year’s Commonwealth Games.

Ultimately, we’re all about pioneering brands that make life better. Expect to see some moments that cut through into culture and surprise and delight our consumers as we continue to deliver our purpose.