January 31, 2020
Peter Munk, the CEO of Willerby, a static caravan business, talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about swapping California for Hull and the key to being an effective leader
Peter Munk gained an understanding of business at an early age. He grew up in Denmark where his father owned a brick making business and Peter would see at first hand how hard he worked to make it a success.
He says: “My father only took one week’s holiday in the summer because somebody always had to run the business.”
Peter initially pursued his own career in corporate America, working his way up to board level at global brands such as Colgate Palmolive, Black&Decker and the Jacuzzi Group, and spent large periods of time travelling between the UK and the US.
But he rather liked the idea of pursuing a very different kind of challenge and so three years ago he swapped the blue skies of California to become CEO of Willerby, a static caravan business based in Hull.
It was an interesting time to be joining the business. Willerby had just been through a turnaround period and needed someone new to drive it forward. Peter’s first job was to put a business plan together and find a new private equity backer, so in mid-2017, Equistone invested in the business.
It was mutual respect at first sight. Peter says: “It was obvious with Equistone that we really aligned with them as people as well as investors. There was a really good understanding. We felt that they put an enormous amount of effort into understanding our business and spending time and money in making sure that this was the right thing for them. I felt that was really positive.”
Peter quickly discovered that after the restrictions of corporate America, working with a private equity investor was like a breath of fresh air.
He says: “Everything in a US plc is geared around quarterly reporting, so if you are not careful that becomes more important than whether the business is actually improving. It sometimes felt as though we could have made a decision that was a bit more longer term if we were not under this constant requirement that every quarter has to be better. What I really like is getting management and investor aligned and I think that is what private equity does really well. You lay out a plan and then you make it happen.”
Perhaps the biggest difference was the simplicity of focus that private equity offers. He says: “There are fewer people to talk to, which is great, and you can really influence the business which I think is exciting.”
There are however several useful elements that Peter has brought to the CEO role from his previous corporate experience.
He says: “I bring an understanding of brands and product and the understanding that the business can’t chase too many goals and objectives. There are many things that you can do with a business but you need to simplify that down to two or three things. We have got a thousand people working here and the more that those thousand people understand what we are trying to do, the more likely we are going to achieve it.”
The key to being an effective CEO is this, he says: “You have to be interested in people, you have to be very goal orientated and be good at communicating that, and you have got to be willing to listen, to take criticism, and to value other people’s opinions. The CEO and management team are the guardians of this business. Our job is to leave it better than when we arrived and to make sure that it has got a good future. If we focus on that, good things will happen.”
Peter spends his free time organising weekend barbeques for his family and playing golf, although this is not always as relaxing as it might seem. He says: “My wife plays golf as well and she takes great pleasure in beating me. In fact I think playing golf frustrates me more than running a business does.”
Drax sector lead: Mark Sherman
Partner, Consumer & Leisure
Tel: 0203 949 9556