Just Eat’s boss on the challenge of transitioning from marketer to CEO

After just a few short months, Peter Duffy swapped heading up marketing at Just Eat for leading the entire business, and while he admits it was a shock, his unwavering focus on customers has made stepping up easier.

Peter Duffy was just seven months into his new role as Just Eat’s first chief commercial officer when he was made interim CEO.

The company was in the middle of a management overhaul and Duffy, who has headed up marketing at EasyJet, Audi and Barclays, was given the top job. However, despite this wealth of experience he says adapting to life as CEO has been a “shock”.

“It’s very different, it’s very busy. I went from starting a job, to doing our results, to running our roadshow for all our major shareholders. It’s just a very different life that you lead versus somebody who is listening to customers and converting that into a set of customer-focused initiatives,” he says, speaking to Marketing Week following an event held by The Marketing Society.

Putting consumers at the centre of a company is something Duffy is clearly passionate
about. No matter the question his answer nearly always reverts back to this core principle.

He is clear this hyper-focus on customer-centricity as a marketer has served him well in the transition to general management.

“Any business is only about serving its customers and so understanding them, understanding needs changing and understanding how the organisation can begin to meet those needs is a really helpful thing for marketers to bring,” he says.

He’s officially pulled out of the race to become permanent CEO but says he is learning skills that make him a better marketer, not least being able to speak the language of the boardroom.

“All marketers today have to make sure they are speaking not just the language of their boardroom but a commercial language. A language which is relevant around the business and is completely aligned in all other areas.

He adds: “Being able to communicate that effectiveness in the organisation can be very powerful.”

READ MORE: Just Eat launches first global brand campaign as it consolidates marketing

Marketing at Just Eat

Marketing remains Just Eat’s biggest investment “by a very very long way” but the company has tried to be more efficient with its spend over the past year.

Last month, it launched its first global campaign after consolidating its media buying and advertising teams. ‘Did Somebody Say Just Eat’ will launch in eight markets across TV, radio, social and out-of-home, and marks the first time the company has developed creative centrally to be adapted across multiple countries.

This is in large part so the brand can “invest more in the quality of that creative work” Duffy says. However, he is clear this isn’t compromising to save on spend.

“Customers are pretty similar whether they live in London, Paris, Sydney or Toronto, so ideas are universal. Customer typologies are more common by urban areas, by a series of different criteria than geography and so we just found we were able to bring work together that resonated in multiple geographies,” he explains.

“A lot happens with Just Eat itself,” he adds, pointing out the brand also in-houses much of its production from big creative works to PPC.

The whole purpose of marketing is to get people excited about the product to the point they want to use it.

Peter Duffy, Just Eat

Duffy says “the performance of the business is all important” but that doesn’t come at the cost of creativity.

“You have to find a way to do that creatively and interestingly. The whole purpose of marketing is to get people excited about the product to the point they want to use it.”

Just Eat measures effectiveness across multiple scales but Duffy says sales are the “ultimate measure”.

“Fundamentally, it’s about the number of sales we make because that’s how many customers come and use the product and think it is good enough. But then there is a range of other criteria which sit behind that in terms of conversion and customer satisfaction rates, delivery times, etc. We have a whole list of criteria which then define quality of service.”

However, he notes that gut feeling should not be underestimated. “There are tools that can begin to support you but ultimately a marketer has to be in touch with their customers and have that intuition around things that are going on to really make the difference.”

Just Eat

It’s a tricky time for Just Eat as it fends off increasing competition from UberEats and Deliveroo. However, Duffy argues it’s just an “exciting time” for the brand and the category.

“Consumers are having food delivered for a whole variety of different meal occasions, not just takeaway [dinners on the weekend] but for breakfast, lunch and midweek suppers so there is a change happening. It’s really exciting for companies like Just Eat to be a part of that and begin to drive it.”

Duffy is less keen to admit where the brand might be struggling, instead preferring to focus on “the next challenges”.

“Lots of stuff is working brilliantly, but it’s about the next challenges facing the organisation – lots of focus on data, building one-to-one communication platforms, getting all the content managed in a smarter way. [We need to ensure] that happens internationally and in a consistent way, so that nothing needs changing fundamentally while making sure we tackle the next batch of stuff.”

This “next batch of stuff” includes starting its own deliveries. Previously restaurants carried out their own deliveries with Just Eat processing the order. However, to keep up with competitors the company is starting to provide its own couriers for restaurants.

But this change is not without its difficulties. “There is online aggregation which is all about working with restaurants who do their own delivery, but you help them with the ordering. That’s very different to doing delivery on behalf of restaurants who don’t have that capability themselves. So when you do that you have to be able to engage and schedule couriers, and begin to provide a whole range of services, which is more costly and complicated to do.”

Tough at the top

Duffy is charming but often cautious, opting to skip questions he doesn’t like rather than offer a perfectly vague PR-approved answer.

At the off-the-record event held by The Marketing Society prior to the interview, Duffy spoke candidly about his personal experiences, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, he is less keen to do so in an interview setting, opting for more universal anecdotes.

Despite this, Duffy is not ashamed to admit that at times the boardroom can be intimidating.

“The more you experience something the easier it becomes. At the start it is challenging but it becomes less so the more you do it, and life experience helps. It’s a very natural phenomena that people feel that way.”

As a result he is keen to make situations more accessible for those who might suffer from impostor syndrome.

“I try and make situations easier for people. It’s entirely natural to feel nervous about a situation if you haven’t done it before, but my whole focus has been trying to create an environment where people can thrive.”

Just Eat

People are at the heart of Duffy’s philosophy and he encourages leaders to not think by numbers but in terms of individuals. Something he learnt the hard way and is quick to caution others against analysing employees’ value in sales figures alone.

He explains: “There are individuals within an organisation who define the culture. They live and breath the values and they make sure their behaviours are absolutely consistent with everything that’s trying to be achieved. They are carriers of the culture, they are customer champions.

“It is important to identify those people, celebrate them and grow and develop them.”

He adds: “So much is achieved when you look at how things are done rather than what is done. If you are going to begin to drive significant change in the organisation you have to get people behind you and it’s all about building relationships. Behaving in the right way, encouraging people to work in teams.”

The ways in which teams work is something Duffy has “given a lot of time too”, specifically improving delegation and “pushing down” decisions.

There are tools that can begin to support you but ultimately a marketer has to be in touch with their customers and have that intuition.

Peter Duffy, Just Eat

“It is important that people can make the decisions they need to in their business lives,” he says. “Often you get hierarchies that slow things down and really don’t add much value. It’s important to know where those control processes need to be in an organisation versus empowering people to get on with the job and make things happen. That’s what I am trying to do.”

This can happen when people higher up the company chain are not as willing to relinquish control. “Sometimes people enjoy making decisions and they do feel that responsibility,” he says. “So how do you encourage them to push those decisions to the right part of the organisation?”

Duffy clearly spends a lot of time thinking about the people within his organisations. He seems to recognise the role this plays in making better business but also appears to genuinely relish getting on with others.

The importance of people

Having worked across a range of industries he says it is “always the people” that attract him to a role. “It’s all about who you are working with at a point in time and what those challenges are; can you add value to that and can you make a difference? Can you begin to make a difference personally? Fundamentally, it’s about the teams and the people you work with.”

He admits that over the course of his career he has improved his “listening skills” when it comes to working in teams.

“If you want to make things happen you have to get people behind the change, which means people to feel party to it rather than it being done to them,” he explains.

Duffy jokes he can’t stand being dubbed a veteran – “it’s unforgivable” – but after 20 years in marketing he’s earned an impressive reputation. The industry has changed considerably in more recent years and Duffy predicts in the future “marketing won’t be owned by the marketing department, it will be owned by the whole organisation”.

He explains: “The disciplines have become to merge together; 20 years ago, there were such things as brand marketers, product marketers and performance marketers – those differentials are much vaguer than they ever were. It’s a broader discipline then it once was.”

Duffy has a lot of be proud of and struggles to pick just one moment that stands out over the past two decades. “There are a number of things I’d point to as example of customer-centricity being brought alive,” he says. “Launching the internet bank at Barclays, launching the R8 at Audi, the app at easyJet, changing one-to-one communication at Just Eat.”

Duffy has been called “brave” for some of these decisions but says he prefers the term tenacity.

“Tenacity is something that we all need to exercise on a regular basis. If you want to drive a customer agenda through at times that can be difficult. The organisation may not be doing what the customer wants so you have to stick with that”.

It’s customers that remain his biggest challenge – and opportunity. “Customer demands are increasing all the time, customers are more savvy, they are smarter than they ever were and staying ahead of that is every organisation’s challenge,” he concludes.