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‘Inspirational means “in spirit”, and you can connect to people in spirit’ – New Look CTO Ed Alford’

Ed elaborates on his career path, explains what leadership means to him, and shares some insights he’s learned along the way.

For someone who professes not to have had a plan for how his leadership career might go, things have worked out well for Ed Alford. After long, successful stints as a consultant (Andersen/Accenture) and in the energy industry (BP, where he was Global CIO and Senior VP in the Group Leadership team), in April 2021 Ed changed course entirely when he became CTO at New Look. We were excited to host Ed at the Venari Partners office recently, where he discussed his experience in – and philosophy of – leadership.

Although he admits that he never saw himself working in fashion, meeting the executive team at New Look convinced Ed to take the job. ‘I felt I could work with and trust the people who interviewed me,’ he says. ‘They all came across with the same purpose.’

This may have opened a very different chapter in Ed’s management career, but his view of leadership has always revolved around problem solving, insatiable curiosity, and a willingness to seize chances when they come up. ‘I knew that if I worked hard and I was knowledgeable on leading teams […] that when opportunity arose, I’d be able to step into it,’ he says. Ed is invited to somewhat ‘cooler’ fashion industry events through his current role than anything he got to attend during his time at BP – but similar challenges remain constant across different markets.

So, what are Ed’s key principles when building and leading teams? One essential aspect is knowing the right time to get involved. After getting over the urge to do everything himself, Ed now credits his role in various projects he oversaw as ‘allowing people to have the space where they were trusted’.

Psychology backs up this approach: stressful, unrealistic deadlines mean workers revert to ‘fight-or-flight, which doesn’t allow them to use the brain,’ Ed states. ‘Allowing people to use the front part of the brain,’ in less highly charged environments, ‘is how you think and create and come up with the right ideas.’

Humility is also central to Ed’s leadership style. He quotes Simon Sinek’s maxim about having ‘people in your charge’, rather than ‘being in charge’ yourself. Ed also credits Paul Burgess, a former colleague at Accenture, for his policy of making a point of greeting, and showing interest in, co-workers at every rung of the corporate ladder. ‘People talk about inspirational. Well, inspirational means “in spirit”,’ Ed notes. ‘And you can connect to people in spirit.’

Ed recognises that executive leadership is not for everyone, but encourages problem solvers drawn to the challenge to ‘have a go. It’s not about the title for me.’ At this point in his long, varied, and illustrious career, one could perhaps forgive Ed for having a very individualistic view of what success means – but nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Success to me, in the nineties, was not having to be sat at my desk on a Friday night at ten o’clock,’ he says wryly – and this approach continues to serve him well. ‘Success, for me, is not having an environment where people don’t get to live life outside work.’

You can download this episode of The Venari Podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Deezer and Podbean.

A few questions we asked Ed Alford...

Did you ever see yourself going into retail coming out of the gas and oil business?

My journey was always about opportunity and awareness. I knew that if I worked hard and I was knowledgeable on leading teams […] that when opportunity arose, I’d be able to step into it.

What made you accept the opportunity at New Look?

How have you found the last year?

Is there an ideal pace to operate at? Key to transformation?

What are your guiding principles for leading teams?

Humility: have you always been humble?

How have you put yourself forward for these leadership roles whilst still retaining humility?

Have you changed since New Look in comparison with BP? (perception of leadership)

What does success look like to you, then and now?

How are you tackling retaining and attracting talent?

What do you think the biggest challenges are for omni-channel retailers over the next 12 months?

Are there any retailers that you think are doing it well?

Who are your inspirations in life?

If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Olivia Britz leads Venari Partners' Digital & Technology function. She proudly works with many of the world’s leading brands across all sectors to source world-class technology and digital leaders across all major disciplines.


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