MEET Peter Jelkeby, Country Retail Manager & Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA UK & Ireland

21 November 2019

Sara Apéria

The legacy of SCC patron IKEA was born in the modest Swedish locality of Älmhult in 1943. Nearly eight decades later, the brand has evolved into one of the world’s leading global retailers with more than 200,000 employees in 52 countries on all populated continents. The Link met with Peter Jelkeby, Country Retail Manager and Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA UK and Ireland, to understand how IKEA realises its vision to create a better everyday life for the many people around the globe.

Peter Jelkeby began his career within IKEA as a part-time store assistant in Gothenburg, from where he climbed the ladder before temporarily leaving IKEA for roles at Habitat and Clas Ohlson. Ten years later, he returned to IKEA as Country Retail Manager for the UK and Ireland. The global retailer brought Peter on a career journey across the world, including Russia, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. “When I was a student working for IKEA, I wrote my dissertation about the company attempting to enter Russia, so I decided to pitch my findings to the bosses. They must have liked what they heard, as I ended up working for IKEA in Moscow,” Peter recalls.

Although Peter did not initially plan to seek a career in retail, pursuing a career within the world of IKEA felt like a natural step. According to Peter, the attractive traits of the company from an employer branding perspective are plentiful. He explains: “IKEA has always been special to me and seeing a company that is so willing to look at every aspect of its design to ensure longevity in an ever-changing market has always excited me. To also do this with consideration for the environment and being a truly circular business is something that I am very proud of,” says Peter.

Fourth largest market in the world
The history of IKEA in the UK market began in 1987, as it opened its first brick and mortar store in Warrington, a medium-sized town located in between Liverpool and Manchester. Approximately 30 years later, the United Kingdom has become the fourth largest IKEA market globally. With 22 full-sized stores, three Order and Collection Points and two Planning Studios, the corporation is constantly developing new tactics of becoming more accessible to the many people. “We revolutionised the way people bought furniture for their homes here by bringing affordable design to the masses. I firmly believe we are a key part of the culture of the nation,” says Peter. On a personal note, Peter describes the UK as an exciting market to operate in. “I believe that the United Kingdom has one of the most dynamic retail offerings in the world, so it is an exciting place to be,” he says.

Entrepreneurship in the DNA
The brand identity of IKEA is essentially characterised by its rich heritage. The company’s founder Ingvar Kamprad came from humble beginnings, which fuelled his desire to provide the many people with affordable furnishing solutions. “Ingvar’s entrepreneurial spirit is a part of our DNA, and his values and approach to life continue to play an important part in everything that we do,” says Peter. Accordingly, the ability to create value for external customers is strengthened by a strong internal business culture. Peter explains: “Our culture is built upon enthusiasm, togetherness and a ‘get-it-done’ attitude. We are curiosity-driven problem solvers, constantly looking for new and better ways of doing things.”

Regarding what part of his job that he values the most, the answer is clear. “Working alongside such passionate and dedicated colleagues who all want something good for IKEA – we are all driving towards the same goals and want IKEA to succeed in what we know is a particularly challenging time for retail,” says Peter.

Live lagom
The concept of “lagom” – which signifies not too little and not too much, permeates the cultural identity of many Swedes. Likewise, IKEA strives to incorporate this fundamental value system within all of its business operations globally, in order to encourage the customers to live in a more sustainable manner. This has resulted in the “Live LAGOM Community”, the Swedish secret to leading a more sustainable life. The philosophy is based on believing that small changes can have a big impact and that a moderate consumption and way of life is the key to sustainable living. Peter explains: “We know that increasingly, more and more people are becoming conscious of the impact they are having on the planet, so we want to provide them with relevant products and solutions that can enable them to take small steps which in turn have a positive impact on the planet.”

Pioneering in sustainability
In terms of sustainability, IKEA regards the current state of the climate crisis as utterly serious and realises that revolutionary changes must be made quickly. “We are facing a climate crisis and global warming is no longer a distant threat, but a visible reality. The climate crisis is affecting the lives of many millions of people around the world and we know that we are running out of time,” Peter accentuates. In accordance, IKEA directs its focus towards becoming a climate positive enterprise. This implies a reduction of more greenhouse gases than what the entire value chain of IKEA emits. “The total direct and indirect IKEA climate footprint is an estimated 0.1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We have a big responsibility and an opportunity to make a positive contribution to tackling the climate crisis.”

Moreover, IKEA is currently working ambitiously on transforming from a linear business to a circular one by the year of 2030. “Becoming a circular business is a transformational journey for IKEA. As a resource dependent business, we must find new and innovative ways to work with renewable and recycled materials,” Peter discusses. In order to achieve this essential goal, the corporation has determined four commitments; manufacturing 100% circular products, only interacting with renewable or recycled materials, establishing new consumption patterns of products as well as taking the lead on extending the longevity of products. Peter continues: “Sustainability is everybody’s business at IKEA. It is at the heart of everything we do and a part of our DNA. For us, it is about balancing economic growth and positive social impact with environmental protection and regeneration.”

In relation to its pioneering sustainability agenda, IKEA also aims to promote and encourage its customers to take on a sustainable lifestyle: “We want to inspire and enable more than 1 billion people to live better everyday within the limits of the planet and are always looking at different ways we can help our customers to live a more sustainable life at home.” As a result of this inspirational approach, IKEA opened its leading sustainable store in Greenwich in London earlier this year. The centre functions as an innovative oasis where citizens can come together and co-create solutions for a sustainable future. For instance, the facilities feature a Learning Lab, which is a global first for IKEA. “We welcome customers, creative partners and the local community to explore prolonging the life of products, grow food, upcycle and live a healthier and more sustainable life at home.”

The biggest transformation in history
The operating business model of IKEA has been successful for decades. Nevertheless, times are changing drastically in terms of customer, lifestyle and consumption behaviour. In consequence, IKEA is currently undergoing its biggest transformation in history. “The world around us is changing at a pace that we have never experienced before, and we need to change with it. It is a really exciting time which sees us transforming to be closer to where people are with new city-centre formats and an even better digital experience, all the while focusing on becoming a truly people and planet positive retailer,” says Peter.

In particular, a major element of IKEAs transformation strategy is an increased focus on innovative digital solutions as well as an exploration of new and emerging technologies. The fundamental ambition is to make the lives of the customers easier, by offering more choice and convenience throughout the shopping experience. “Our customers continue to demand more choice, whether that is faster services, more convenience or greater accessibility. That is why we are developing and exploring digital solutions to give customers the experience they are looking for. Our ambition is that our customers will be able to search, find and buy with us online within five minutes.”

To illustrate, IKEA has recently developed a few smartphone applications, that aims to facilitate the retail experience. For instance, an augmented reality app helps customers to visualise furniture and other products from IKEA in their homes. Moreover, the IKEA store app aids customers in being time-efficient, by constructing shopping lists prior to arrival, as well as determining the stock availability and location of certain products in advance. “We remain committed to offering an affordable and inspirational product range – but increasingly we know it is not just about the products, it is also about our service offering. We want our range of services to be even more compelling to customers as we know that convenience is key,” Peter explains.

For the sake of the many people
All operations of IKEA are derived from its core purpose, which is to create a better everyday life for the many people. In practice, this results in a genuine belief that everyone deserves well-designed home furnishings at an affordable price, regardless of what affordability means to them. “Our overarching vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people; not just for our customers but also our co-workers and the people that we work with across our entire value chain,” Peter explains. This vision stretches wider than the product assortment of IKEAs many racks and shelves. “We want our business to have a positive impact on the world – from the communities in which we operate, to how and where we source the materials that we use, to the way our products can support customers to live a better and more sustainable life at home.”

Looking forward, Peter accentuates the necessity of remaining true to the core purpose of the brand. “As already stated, our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. Here in the UK we will achieve this by focusing on creating a new IKEA that is more affordable, reaches more people, delivers excellent customer experiences and is truly people and planet positive,” Peter concludes.

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