Meet Peter Jelkeby: New Chair of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK
13 October 2023
After many years in leading positions at Swedish giants IKEA and Clas Ohlson, Peter Jelkeby is no stranger to brand Sweden. Currently CEO & CSO of IKEA UK and Ireland, he is about to add another Swedish establishment to the list, as he takes on the role as Chair of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK. The Link sat down with Peter to learn more about his background, experiences and his vision for the Chamber.
"I’m taking on this role hoping to do it my own way. I’m quite an engaged person and I really hope to bring that energy into the Chamber,” Peter says. “Apart from that, I think I can contribute with the experience I have, coming from a global Swedish retailer. My background has not only taught me about the UK market, but it has also brought me all over the world.”
Born in Malmö, Peter grew up with his parents and two sisters in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Later studying Marketing Distribution, it was his weekend job, rather than his studies, that would lead him to where he is today.
“I started working for IKEA in 1983 as a part-time job, and it ended up taking me in a completely different direction than my studies; rather than doing marketing, I went into the sourcing side of the business.”
This wasn’t the last time IKEA would take Peter in a somewhat unexpected direction. As he was completing his degree, he decided to use the company as a case in his final thesis, not knowing it would change his life.
“I wanted to do my thesis focusing on IKEA in the Soviet Union, but instead of completing the thesis, I got a job offer.” Peter says and laughs. “I’m quite an adventurous person, so I decided to go for it. That was my first assignment abroad, living in Moscow for five years. It was a fantastic period – very challenging but extremely interesting.”
In the mid-1990s, Peter decided to continue his journey in Hong Kong, where he would work with setting up IKEA branches in a few surrounding countries.
“I wanted to continue working in this sort of entrepreneurial spirit, but in a new market, so I went to Hong Kong to work with the development of IKEA Vietnam and IKEA Philippines. This later brought me over to Vietnam where I stayed to set up the business and spent ten years working on the purchasing and sourcing side.”
After Vietnam, Peter was ready to return to Europe. This time, the location was London where he joined homeware retailer Habitat, at the time owned by the IKEA group, and later went into the sales side of the business.
“I spent my first year at Habitat, before going back to IKEA, where I started working in the sales department. I had various jobs during those years, everything from Sales Manager to Market Manager and Store Manager, then Deputy Country Retail Manager.”
In 2008, Peter left London and IKEA to go back to Sweden, where he joined Swedish hardware and home improvement retailer Clas Ohlson. He spent his next ten years working in various leading positions, ending up as Executive Vice President, before moving back to the UK, once again joining IKEA.
“Going back to London was an easy decision. We had a great time living here – I love the culture and I really get on well with the British and Irish communities. Apart from that, London is a fantastic retail market to work in; I’d say it’s the most dynamic in Europe when it comes to innovation, consumer behaviours and competition.”
Today, Peter lives in London with his wife Karin, while their three children are living in Sweden. When not in London, Peter likes spending time on the Swedish west coast, where the family tries to get together as often as possible.
“We have a house on this small island called Gullholmen, located a bit outside of Gothenburg. As we have been traveling and moving around so much through the years, we realised a long time ago that we need a location, a place, that would serve as an anchor for our family. This is it. And I love spending time there.”
Through all his relocations, Peter has kept his connection to Sweden, and when he moved back to the UK, he soon realised that he wanted to support the Swedish community in his new home country. First learning about the Swedish Chamber of Commerce back in Sweden, he decided to join the SCC community in London.
“My first encounter with the Chamber was during my time at Clas Ohlson, as our UK country manager had been in touch with the team. Then, when I moved over, I connected with then Chief Executive Peter Sandberg and thanks to him, I understood the important role the Chamber plays in the Swedish-British business community. This is why I decided to get involved.”
In 2021, Peter was appointed to the SCC’s Board of Directors and has since then played an active role in the community. As Jan Olsson was going to step down as Chair of the Chamber, Peter, encouraged by his fellow board members, thought he could make a valuable contribution as successor.
“The idea had grown on me over time. As a board member, I was impressed when seeing the work and the community around the Chamber. When I understood that it was all for a good cause, I felt like I had a responsibility to get involved even more. So, when the question came, I felt ready for it.”
After having been nominated by the Board, Peter was elected Chair at the SCC’s Annual General Meeting, on 8 June 2023. His first aim, he says, will be to broaden both the network and the SCC offering. Not only by adding more to the membership, but also diversifying what is already there.
“I want to stay on the course we’re on and keep building on the strong foundation that has already been made. I would love to grow the community by adding new members, hopefully from a wide range of sectors and of different sizes, creating sort of a balance within the membership. Last but not least, the Chamber has a great community of young talents that I’m really keen on activating. That’s something that I’m personally devoted to.”