What have ten CEOs from a range of sectors, varying scales of business, and at different points of success got in common?

Creativity. Creativity lies at the heart of business success and goes hand in hand with great leadership. Of course ‘creativity’ lives in diverse forms and affects business in all kinds of ways. The following snapshots capture how ten CEOs have used creativity to make an impact.

back to brick

Jørgen Vig Knudstorp : Lego

In just over ten years CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp has turned around Lego financially and built a solid brand platform for the business to excel for years to come. Knudstorp’s ‘back to brick’ strategy focused purely on core products and beliefs. Understanding the Lego DNA – ‘creativity and imagination’– Knudstorp cut down on excess brand stretching. This enabled Lego Group to go from loss making to a healthy profit making business. Knudstorp has found the perfect balance between new ideas based on a clear brand strategy and the resistance to expand into areas that aren’t true to the brand. After the launch of the Lego Movie (the longest advert for a toy), Lego has gone from strength to strength becoming the world’s second largest toymaker behind Mattel.

healthy user

Bojan Bostjancic : Azumio

With over 70 million downloads already, Azumio is the market leader in health and fitness apps on both iOS and Android platforms. Bojan Bostjancic, the founder and CEO of Azumio, has a range of products tracking your workouts, measuring your heart rate, analysing sleep patterns, and helping diabetics manage blood sugar levels. Bostjancic’s breakthrough success has come through thinking holistically and creatively around consumer needs, designing a user experience that’s easy and fun. Now Azumio are offering Argus, the app that combines all health and fitness into one place. The app will collect and aggregate relevant data from multiple apps instantly. For the first time, users can now identify their own developing health trends.


Danny Kruger : Only Connect

Only Connect are a London based ‘creative crime prevention charity’ rooted in the community. Danny Kruger, founder and CEO, had a vision, ‘a connected society where we all choose a crime free life’. The charity’s first projects were theatre productions performed in HMP Wormwood Scrubs and HMP Holloway. Now OC work with over 10,000 ex-offenders and young people at risk, unlocking their potential and helping them to support themselves – through creativity.
OC now runs six programmes providing training, support and creative opportunities. Danny Kruger’s belief that creativity can help rehabilitation in society was put in the spotlight by a visit from Prince William and Kate, who attended one of OC’s dance productions.


"there is no policy or tracking". There is also no clothing policy at Netflix, but no one comes to work naked. Lesson: you don't need policies for everything

Reed Hastings : Netflix

We all know about Netflix leading from the front- reshaping the way content is created, consumed, delivered and paid for. It’s fascinating how they also helped to re-invent HR on the same journey. Chief Executive Reed Hastings’ creative thinking around behaviour in the workplace had a massive impact on the Netflix culture– and the rest of Silicon Valley. It wasn’t a film, or animation, but a 127 slide PowerPoint deck that caused the waves, shaping the culture and motivating performance at Netflix. Creative ideas such as their ‘no vacation policy’ and ‘tracking’, allowing workers to take ‘big vacations to return with big ideas’, made the document viral. It’s now been downloaded more than 5 million times.


Paul Polman : Unilever

‘Profit is not a purpose, it’s an end product. I always want a deeper result. People assume that if you do something good, it must cost money. I don’t know where they get that idea from. Business leaders don’t need to compromise’ said Paul Polman. As CEO of Unilever Paul Polman (who once trained as a priest) not only is investing in zero waste factories, creating a greener business model and increasing positive social impact, he is setting a goal to double the size of Unilever. Under Polman’s leadership, Unilver now projects the ‘Vitality Mission’ creatively through the brand identity, on all of their products, throughout the world.


Robyn Exton : Dattch

In this digital age of possibilities, Robyn Exton has hit the social headlines, launching a lesbian dating app. Working in the branding industry enabled her to gain insight into one of her clients business, a large dating agency. A short time after, the idea came to her that lesbian dating sites were based on a gay male template. This was her opportunity to launch Dattch. Being built for women by women allowed the start-up to make safer assumptions and rapid decisions.
The creative thinking and energy that bounces off CEO Robyn Exton enabled her to spot the gap, build the idea, get funding and make Dattch a reality in both the UK and US with massive media impact. Now the app has developed beyond dating. It is one of the first exclusively female safe space apps where women are using it for friendship as well. Dattch won ‘Best Designed App Award’ at the US Launch Festival.


Carolyn McCall : easyJet

Carolyn McCall OBE, became the third FTSE - 100 female CEO in 2010. Contrary to the expectations of Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, who expressed surprise with the ‘PR Luvvy’s’ appointment when she left Guardian Media Group for the role. Carolyn McCall is now being seen as the person who turned easyJet around, and being hailed as the champion of women bosses. It was McCall’s creative holistic thinking that made the difference – rigorously questioning the customer journey, and easyJet’s employee experience. Changes were made. She reversed the cost saving decision to cut the portions of pilots meals and scrapped the widely criticised unallocated seating system. She also wrote to pilots reassuring them that easyJet wouldn’t become the ‘Orange Ryanair’. We have now seen a fourfold rise in share price and a doubling of profit. And the upward curve continues.


Alexander Ljung : SoundCloud

Boom! Since launching in 2008 SoundCloud has evolved from a small start up in Berlin to one of the top online audio distribution platforms in the world. Alexander Ljung, founder and CEO, has a creative philosophy that boosts morale and productivity within the SoundCloud working culture. One employee perk is to be able to work out of any office - Berlin, London, New York or San Francisco.
This builds a global mindset that is reflected in the brand and its users. Alexander Ljung’s background started in the creative industry as an audio producer. Sharing ideas and work was part of that culture and it was this that sparked the idea of SoundCloud. It now has a reputation around the world for being the number one platform for audio creators to share, broadcast, track and promote their music.

purity passion

Simon Mottram : Rapha

Simon Mottram, CEO, has a passion - and he has expressed this creatively by building the Rapha brand. Rapha is a pure brand based on a passion for cycling from the people who work there, the Wednesday morning rides, the sexy Rapha.cc website peppered with beautiful photography, typography and copywriting. And of course beautiful products, their gritty romantic films, sponsorship of teams and inclusive events, as well as Rapha café styled cycling clubs popping up in cities globally. Mottram had a ‘no compromise’ model when outbidding Adidas for the Team Sky partnership - fully believing that the Rapha replica kit would generate greater sales than ever before. He was absolutely right. Across everything is the consistent joy of the Rapha experience, expressed creatively.

get out!

Neville Wilshire : Save Britain Money

Love or hate. Neville Wilshire CEO of Save Britain Money oozes creative ideas that build a positive culture which in turn drives sales in his call centre. Made famous on BBC Three’s ‘The Call Centre’ for his antics, the so called David Brent treads that fine line between being the dynamic motivator adored by his staff and being at the centre of an HR issue. He’s old school, playful and uses many creative tools to generate motivation from beauty contests, arm wrestling competitions (which he has never lost) to the call centre’s choir. His recipe for success is to make work fun. Not everything Wilshire does pays off but watching the series sparks ideas that watered down could work for the more formal professional businesses out there - when taken with a pinch of salt.