CIO Spotlight: David Leitch, Peak

Did you always want to work in IT? “I’ve always had a really strong desire to improve the way businesses operate…. all of my roles have involved understanding how things work and looking for ways to improve them constantly.”


Name: David Leitch

Company: Peak

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: January 2020

Location: Manchester, UK

David Leitch founded Decision Intelligence company Peak in 2015, with Richard Potter and Atul Sharma. A new category of software, Decision Intelligence facilitates the commercial application of artificial intelligence, providing predictive insight and recommended actions to users. Peak is recognised as one of the early leaders in the space and, in August 2021, announced a $75m series C funding round led by SoftBank. A Business Change specialist, Leitch has over eight years’ experience of defining, delivering and embedding business critical IT projects and programmes across a variety of industries. His passion for Business Change led him to set up his own consultancy in 2012, securing clients such as RBS, Morrisons and most recently the Co-operative Bank where he was Lead Business Analyst across several high-profile IT programmes.

What was your first job? I started out as a Project Analyst at the Co-operative Group HQ in Manchester. This was a great introduction to work, as I was thrown into the deep end on a lot of key projects early on, all of which had a core IT element to them. I had great support from the Leadership team there and learned loads, I’m still close friends with many of them today.

Did you always want to work in IT? I’ve always had a really strong desire to improve the way businesses operate. Prior to starting Peak, I have never been in a Business-as-Usual role – all of my roles have involved understanding how things work and looking for ways to improve them constantly. Technology is one of the biggest enablers for positive change, so that is where my interest in IT began!

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a Masters degree in Management and Business Law. I spent a lot of time in Project and Programme Management roles in the past, so have PRINCE2, MSP, Agile Programme Management qualifications, along with other certifications relating to Business Analysis and ITIL.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. The first four years of my career were at the Co-op, which took me through key projects in HR, Facilities and IT, both as a Business Analyst and Project Manager. I then moved to the Co-op Bank, where I was focused on more technical, systems integration projects as part of a large transformation programme.

From there, I worked as a consultant for businesses such as RBS, Morrisons, the Economist and AstraZeneca, which really helped me to develop my experience in Data-related projects. When we founded Peak in 2015, my initial role was COO, making sure our operations, processes, procedures and technology were set up and running properly, and that we were delivering value to our customers from day one. I then moved into the CIO role from January 2020, to increase our focus on internal information systems and IT strategy.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Peak is a Decision Intelligence platform (i.e., an AI powered platform that sits across an organisation’s entire dataset to direct decision making at every level of the business). My team is building an information management system on Peak. We launched the first iteration in Q4 2021, and will be onboarding each function and making improvements throughout this year.

This is a core initiative that will enable us to automate all the reporting we do in every department, see predictive insights in real time and give us the ability to make great decisions across the business.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Information Security will always be a top priority. And of course, my team is also leading on building the management information system using Peak.

We’re also launching in the US and extending our footprint in India with the addition of Peak clubhouses in both Pune and Mumbai. We hired nearly 200 people in 2021 and are set to double this year, so there will be lots to keep me busy!

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I’m probably not the best person to ask! As a co-founder, I get involved in everything from premise and facilities management to culture and hiring, supporting commercial proposals and fundraising.

There are a lot of conventional parallels between IT strategy and operations, and as IT professionals we work across a range of reporting areas and internal systems, so CIOs do tend to be very adaptable.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? As a modern business built on a modern tech stack, we don’t have the issues with legacy architecture that older or more established organisations often have to deal with. We began our journey on the cloud and we use industry leading SaaS that’s well integrated.

But we are an AI platform, and Peak is often at the heart of our customers’ digital transformation journeys, so we have a unique view of the change management process. The businesses that succeed with these programmes (whether they are targeting revenue growth, operational efficiency or both) are those that approach it from an outcome first perspective. They take time to understand what they need a project to deliver and why, and work back from there. Culture is also really important. New tech – no matter how efficient – cannot be successful without a culture that is supportive of change and understands the value it can provide.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As a leadership team, we set organisational Objectives each year. Peak uses an OKR framework, so those objectives then cascade to Objectives and Key Results for every functional area, department and team. We’re a very fast moving company, and it’s proven to be a great way of engaging the whole organisation, ensuring everyone knows what the goal is and how they as individuals are contributing to Peak’s success.

OKRs must be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound – and the CIO team is no exception. Our OKRs are aligned with those of the rest of the organisation,  we report on them quarterly and are aware of their impact on the wider business goals.

What does a good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it?  At Peak, we have very strong values of smart, curious, open, driven and responsible. They’ve been with us from day one and they are threaded through everything we do. We’ve been able to scale quickly because we prioritise our values, particularly when hiring. Our people are value driven, and our growth is driven by our people.

Our vision for the company has always been two fold. We want to change the way the world works with Decision Intelligence, and to build a company everyone loves to be a part of. That means building a company people feel responsible for. If they have an issue or see something that they feel needs to be addressed, they should be driven and responsible enough to raise it, and the management team will always be open to that feedback.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The roles we are finding challenging to hire for are related to Revenue and Marketing Operations - a rare combination of system knowledge and understanding of how sales and marketing organisations actually work in practice. We are developing talent pathways in-house, but if anyone knows anyone great in these roles who would like a new challenge, please send them my way!

What's the best career advice you ever received? Be a swan! There may be a lot of paddling going on under the water, but getting flustered on the outside is a waste of time and energy that can be better spent elsewhere.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. My co-founders and I all have experiences of past managers who have pushed us and helped us to develop and succeed, and it’s incredibly important to us that Peak is a place where people can grow, thrive and progress. We want our team to be with us for a sizable part of their careers and we’re very focused on developing our people.

Peak has a dedicated Learning and Development team, and an internal ‘Superhuman Academy’ which provides on demand training to every Peaker on subjects as wide ranging as leadership, mental health awareness, and communication.

Every person within the business has an individual Professional Development Plan, supported by their manager, and we encourage people to pursue interests outside of their current roles to get a broader perspective.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Try to cut out the noise, find out what’s really important for the different areas of your business and understand their requirements before jumping into solutions.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Peak, the company we’ve built and the culture we’ve created. That, and achieving ISO27001 certification!

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? There genuinely isn’t much I would change. I feel the path I have taken, whilst perhaps not traditional in terms of becoming a CIO perhaps, has given me a really good overall view of business and the importance of technology as an enabler for growth. I met one of my co-founders at school, and the other while working on some of the most complex and challenging projects I've ever worked on. The experiences I’ve had throughout my career have all been great learning opportunities that have been incorporated into Peak, our platform and our company.

What are you reading now? Loonshots by Safi Bahcall. I’m a bit late to it, it’s been doing the rounds among the Peak team for a while!

Most people don't know that I… DJ in my spare time. I’ve played in front of thousands of people in the past!

In my spare time, I like to…See above!

Ask me to do anything but… My role as founder and CIO is wide and varied, and has evolved over time. I can be in the weeds of an ISO audit one day, to a board meeting the next. I see being prepared to do pretty much anything as part of my job description, and fits with my philosophy of every role in the business being of equal importance to the overall achievement of our goals.