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Executive summary
Paula MacKenzie, CEO of Pizza Express, shared her playbook for success as a new CEO.


In October we hosted a breakfast with Paula MacKenzie, CEO of Pizza Express since May 2022. Speaking to a room of sitting and future CEOs, Paula shared her advice on transitioning effectively and rapidly into her first CEO role.

Tasked with radically improving performance for one of the most loved restaurant brands in the UK, Paula also had to quickly establish herself in a private equity-backed organisation of over 10,000 people across 500 restaurants.

Here she shares her playbook for success on making the right impact in year one:

  • Arrive, Assimilate, Articulate and Accelerate: Paula developed this four-step approach for her first few weeks as CEO to help her effectively land and move quickly in decision making.

  • Rapid decision making: Effective and fast decisions were vital in those crucial first months as CEO. The CEO needs to determine the boundaries around decision-making and allow the team to perform better and faster. There will be people who will Recommend, people who Input, and others who will Decide. When roles in decision-making are clearly defined, teams and organisations make the right choices.

  • Brain Train: who is on your brain train? Paula’s “trusted advisors” include her chairman, coach, a leading brand agency executive and a trusted headhunter.  Key to success was not being afraid to ask for help!

  • Building the team: What talent is in the team, and is it the right talent? Don’t be afraid to make difficult decisions early. The ‘rehire test’ is a good filter. Would you rehire the person for the role they are in all things being equal?

  • Communication: When Paula arrived, nobody knew who she was or what her agenda was. Through a weekly Friday newsletter, everyone could read about what she was doing (at a high level) and where the business was going. Through this, a highly dispersed team felt they got to know her.

  • Not all problems are equal: She defined three different types of problems: 
    • Fires to put out because you cannot walk past;
    • Small fires that can continue smouldering;
    • Mountains to climb.

  • And finally personal resilience: Paula is a big advocate of SHED and carefully manages Sleep, Hydration, Exercise and Diet.

Our CEO Transitions Breakfast events are a fantastic forum for leaders to connect and share stories and advice. Paula’s story was energising, inspiring and super insightful and we look forward to the next chapter for her and Pizza Express.