Emma Woods to step down as Wagamama CEO

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Emma Woods to step down as Wagamama CEO

Related tags: Casual dining, Multi-site, Wagamama, Emma Woods

Wagamama chief executive Emma Woods has announced she plans to step down from the role and hand over to her internally appointed successor, Thomas Heier.

The move will see Heier, the current chief experience officer, start the role from 1 June, by which point it is hoped that the group's restaurants will have reopened for dine-in service following the expected easing of lockdown restrictions in May.

Woods, who joined Wagamama as its customer director at the start of 2017, will continue to support Wagamama through its next phase of growth as an inaugural member of its brand board.  

Having been promoted to CEO at the time of Wagamama's acquisition by The Restaurant Group (TRG) in 2018​, Woods led the chain's significant growth in 2019 and guided it through the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Outside of Wagamama she has been a non-executive director of The Gym Group since 2016, and is taking on its senior independent director and chair of Remco responsibilities in May.

“It has been an honour to lead the Wagamama business through the last tumultuous years, but as the business emerges from the pandemic and starts an exciting new chapter,  it feels the right time to hand on the chopsticks to someone I know loves the brand as much as I do," says Woods.

"I am delighted to be able to continue to support Wagamama as I develop a wider advisory portfolio.”

Heier also joined Wagamama in 2017, initially as its people director before going on to assume additional responsibility for its US business in 2018.

He was pivotal in leading its turnaround and the subsequent partner selection process that resulted in Wagamama entering into its current joint venture partnership back in January 2020.

Then, last year, he took on his current role as chief experience officer, which saw him gain additional responsibility for the brand’s marketing, insight and customer experience functions. 

“The excellent performance of Wagamama under Emma’s leadership speaks for itself," says Andy Hornby, CEO of The Restaurant Group.

"Over the last three years Wagamama has constantly out-performed the market, improved our customer perception scores and shown continual innovation especially around food quality.

"Perhaps, most importantly, morale levels in the restaurant  teams are higher than ever despite the impact of Covid. Emma therefore leaves with all of our thanks and I am delighted that she is staying involved with the business via her membership of the advisory brand board.

“I am especially pleased that succession has been carefully planned and therefore the Wagamama culture will be preserved through internal succession. Thomas has played a pivotal role in the success of Wagamama as part of Emma’s team and is extremely well qualified to take us forwards.

"His passion for the Wagamama brand and for our people is plain to see."

Previously, Heier was head of HR for Travelodge and Carnival UK (P&O Cruises and Cunard).

"Wagamama is such a special brand underpinned by a meaningful purpose, a strong identity and unique culture," he says.

"I’m incredibly excited to be given the opportunity to lead a business that’s so close to my heart.”

Woods was recently named Retailers’ Retailer of the Year 2021​ at a virtual ceremony that was hosted by BigHospitality​’s sister title MCA​.

Related topics: People, Casual Dining

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