Workplace Leaders
Perrett Laver
Global Senior Partner

Arabella Chichester

As businesses evolve and expand, one of the most formidable challenges they face is the preservation of their core values. When needs and priorities change, the things that made the organisation unique in the first place can often be overlooked. Thankfully, Arabella Chichester, Global Senior Partner at Perrett Laver, has placed her company’s unique working culture at the heart of her approach. 

Arabella sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss issues ranging from Perrett Laver’s intersectional approach to DEI to the traits and habits needed to become a successful people leader. 


Luke: Let’s kick off with a quick intro to yourself and your organisation. 

I’m a Global Senior Partner at Perrett Laver. Alongside my colleagues Sinead and Tom, I am responsible for the long-term strategic development of Perrett Laver as well as the acceleration of its commercial growth. We are the leading international executive search firm finding outstanding leaders for ‘purpose-driven’ sectors. Working in over 70 countries globally, our mission is to identify diverse talent for organisations driving positive change across education, research, society and the environment.

Luke: How did you arrive in your current position? What did that journey look like? 

I joined Perrett Laver over 12 years ago now. Then, we had 30 colleagues in one office in London, and now we have 200 across 17 global offices. I joined as a researcher doing candidate outreach. From there, I worked with colleagues to identify a business opportunity in our social impact and environment practice, which I led, grew and scaled over eight years to become one of the foremost advisors on leadership appointments in the sector. Earlier this year, our founders transitioned out of the business, leading me to take up my current role. In tandem with that, we became an employee-owned trust, meaning our colleagues are also the shareholders of the business. 

Luke: Your role has a broad remit. How do you develop your practice with your work on people and culture? 

Culture is hugely important for us. We’re a people business at heart. If you ask people who’ve been here for a long time, they’ll tell you it’s down to the people and culture. We’ve achieved a lot through several different lenses. The first is a united purpose in the sectors in which we serve. Second, we prioritise intentional work — for example, we’re currently redesigning our values in consultation with all employees. We’re highly aware of the multigenerational workforce, and we have active employee resource groups and a DEI committee. Finally, we’re active on issues around social mobility and underrepresented groups, and we’ve just completed a program with 10,000 Black Interns. All our DEI work is embedded into our training processes, and that’s key to our success. We’re committed to helping our clients improve diversity across all characteristics and promoting awareness across all organisations. We are constantly listening, learning and evolving and therefore, our work is never done.

Luke: You work in a highly international firm. However, DEI issues can often depend on local cultural contexts. How can you create a single set of values across the organisation?

It’s important to involve all colleagues and help them understand their role in building an inclusive workplace. Having mechanisms for feedback and listening in different forms that are confidential and intentional are key - we have just launched an inclusion survey. When you’re thinking globally, it’s necessary to recognise intersectionality and go beyond the hot topics of the day to look at the wider issues. You need to meet people where they are instead of being prescriptive about where you need to get to. It’s a tight balancing act, and DEI means different things to everyone, so you need to stay on the front foot.

Luke: Employee schedules seem to be busier than ever. How do you find the time to engage everyone on DEI issues

Firstly, you need to recognise the importance of space. Next, you have to constantly be clarifying and communicating values. It’s vital to reinforce positive behaviour, encourage open communication, and empower people to speak up. It’s not just about carving out the time, but about fostering communication.

Luke: What traits and habits are necessary to succeed in people leadership? 

Empathy, emotional intelligence, and authenticity. We’re now in a different era of leadership, and we’ve moved on from the hierarchical, top down style . Today, we’re in a time of change, and leadership needs to be inclusive and participatory. If you can combine those values with resilience and positivity, then you’ll be able to navigate any changes and foster a cohesive culture.

Luke: It’s important to build a sense of psychological safety across any organisation. How do you embed this in your working culture?

For me, it comes down to two things: humility and self-awareness. Our job is never done here, and our priorities are always evolving. The workforce has changed hugely since the pandemic and that has brought new challenges and opportunities. If you have the desire to learn, you can create a knowledge-sharing culture which encourages feedback and growth.

Luke: How do you articulate the link between a positive culture and the higher-level strategic objectives of your firm? 

A positive work culture is imperative to the success of a business. You can’t have one without the other. If you have a positive culture, employees will feel respected, perform better, and become more innovative. Surveys have shown that 80% of employees believe culture is the most important aspect of a business. So culture is more important to driving success than any structure or operations.

Luke: What steps have you taken to embed a culture of learning and growth at Perrett Laver?

We’re an entrepreneurial business by nature, so we like to encourage people to try new things and take risks. You need to create an environment where it’s okay to fail. Failure isn’t the end of the world; it’s a learning opportunity. 

Luke: As a business expands, how can you preserve the core values at the heart of your culture? 

It’s about spending time together. You need to make sure core values are constantly talked about and reinforced. There can never be too much communication. A culture of open feedback encourages learning at all levels and leads to greater innovation and growth.

Luke: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received in your career? 

Venture outside your comfort zone. If you don’t, you’ll never expand your skillset. When you try new things, you prepare yourself for your next role and create huge opportunities for growth and development. 

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Luke James
Luke works hand-in-hand with leaders and changemakers in our professional services markets. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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