Heads Up with Chris Öhlund, CEO, Time Out Group

Chris Öhlund joined Time Out Group in July 2021 as Executive Vice Chairman, and was appointed CEO in October 2021. Chris has over 25 years of leadership experience in international digital businesses ranging from leading media brands, consumer platforms and film production. He has served on various boards including as Chairman of then-publicly listed Ricardo (part of Tradus) – which was eventually sold to Naspers for $1.9 billion. Mr Ohlund served as Non-Executive Director at Oscar-winning Condor Films in Switzerland, London-based internet start-up Shutl.com (until its sale to eBay), Facile and Casa in Italy and currently serves on the board of the UK’s leading PropTech, Residently.

As CEO of Germany’s leading online comparison portal Verivox, his innovative transformation leadership quadrupled annual revenue and increased enterprise value sixfold to over €500 million during his tenure of six years. Previously he turned around the digital business unit of “Blick”, a daily Swiss newspaper, to become the number one digital news portal in Switzerland, including developing number one apps in news, sports and entertainment. Prior he served as CEO of logistics firm DPD with annual revenues in excess of €1 billion and a workforce of 11,000 strong.


What does good leadership mean to you?

Having a clear vision of the future and being able to articulate it to any audience, providing guidance to associates and fostering an open and direct relationship with all constituents. This requires clarity in thought and speech as well as personal integrity. Clear commitment to the task at hand is essential for any leader to serve as a role model. And most importantly, let associates learn – learn from the things that didn’t go as well as planned and provide for personal and professional learning experiences.

What is the best example you have seen of Transformational Leadership?

Time Out launched in 1968 in London – the 55 years of company history have seen many transformational moments. Let me pick two highlights. We have transformed our Media business from print magazine in one city to digital around the world which has come with many changes – the team, under Media CEO Stacy Bettman’s leadership, has built digital capabilities and grown digital revenue; this is a successful and energised team which I’m sure will go from strength to strength going forward. The second key transformation is that Time Out opened its first Time Out Market in Lisbon in 2014 – so what was once a listings magazine is now a global media and hospitality business. We currently have a portfolio of 15 locations – six open Markets and nine in development, with more in advanced negotiations. This brand expansion has required a completely different skill set which we have built within our company – I’m proud to say that, guided by Markets CEO Sandy Hayek, we have what I think is the world’s leading food hall team which not only has exceptional expertise but also incredible dedication.

What is the most important thing you have learnt in your career so far?

Take care of people and they will take care of you. People are the deciding factor in success. The best strategy doesn’t help you if you have a lack of execution capability. Despise office politics and have no tolerance for “game playing”. Share in the glory – it is not about yourself – it is about the team. It requires diversity and you must allow for contrarian opinions and embrace them; no matter how uncomfortable that may seem at times.

How did you get to where you are today? Did you take a strategic, planned approach to your career or has it been more opportunistic?

Of course, every career has its own journey – for me I think the underlying factors driving me have always been a dedication to work and maintaining an open mind to opportunities that arise as a result of achievement.

Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started your career? And anything you would tell yourself at an earlier stage in your career?

Learn and read as much as you can. Take yourself back, listen and reflect. Always avoid complacency and remain open to what your mentors have to say, even if you think you know better.

What changes to your industry do you anticipate over the next two years and are you excited by this?

I expect that the media sector overall will become more personalised by serving more relevant content to its audience – driven by AI. Individual personal profiling will be enabled for both advertising and content themes thus delivering more relevance to the reader/viewer/listener. This will save time and effort for the audience in obtaining the content that each individual desires at the right time on the right channel and in the personally preferred format.

As for hospitality I would see that elevated social dining will entrench itself as a new format. Technology will equally become a growth driver as the guest experience will be augmented by personalisation (the restaurant will know your past preferences and offer individual tailored offers) or permit the guest to choose their preferred table at the point of reservation. Also, AI will help you choose a restaurant based upon your situation at the time (“We are six people, four of them children, and would like to book a table at a restaurant tomorrow that we have been to before. Where can we go?”). While technology will play an increasingly important role for people going out and as they spend more and more time on digital channels one thing that won’t change is their need for socialising over some great food and drinks. I’m delighted that as Time Out Group we are part of this full journey as a media and hospitality business – from getting inspiration and reading recommendations via our Time Out digital channels to going out in one of our Time Out Markets.

So yes, overall, I am excited by these developments as they will help improve quality of life and simplify repetitive tasks that provide little value-add. On the flipside, there is a risk that we will be exposed to more fake content as it will become increasingly difficult to differentiate between what’s real and what is not – at Time Out, curation of the best of the city by expert journalists has always been at the heart of what we do and this insight and knowledge, this human touch and our unique tone of voice, will always be a key element and can’t be replaced, even if AI and other technological innovations might help us in many ways to work more efficiently.

What are your three key priorities in the next 12 months? 

We have worked hard to ensure that we deliver a strong recovery of Time Out following the pandemic and as a result, we have seen continued progress and growth, with the teams having achieved many milestones. We are now well positioned to drive further sustained growth – we still have much to do and therefore have an ambitious strategy in place to realise this great brand’s true potential, including further growing our Media business as well as our Markets business. Part of this is also the further development of organisational culture and the implementation of strategic partnerships to foster and expand on global opportunities, we are also working on integrating AI in our processes and product where it supports our company objectives and helps us drive our business forward. It’s an exciting time here at Time Out Group.

What type of people do you like to work with and what makes them good leaders?

Authentic, fun, hardworking achievers that care about their people and have an above average EQ.

What fascinates you about your job?

The ability to revitalize a unique global brand with two complementary businesses (media and hospitality) and develop solutions that create a true value-add for its audience and its clients. Plus, obviously the global expansive nature of our business lines; Time Out is present around the world.

As a leader what skills do you continuously work on to keep you at the top of your game?

Reading and listening – understanding how diversity supports our decision making. Personal growth is expansive and I try to always entertain other views and have as many data points available as is possible in order to secure the best outcomes.

What’s your next big objective?

Professionally, to ensure that Time Out remains the respected, authentic global brand it is but taking it further and realising its true potential, building on its heritage as a medium to help people discover and enjoy the best of the city.

What keeps you awake at night?

Questions about the future of technology, such as, will regulation be capable of ensuring that AI remains a benefit to society as opposed to becoming a tool for less sincere players?  How will content security and privacy be upheld at a time where it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between real and fake?

What is the best way to switch off in your free time?

First and foremost, my friends and family/children are my sanctuary that allow me to switch off from work. Discovering new places and new experiences is a joyful to do both. Music plays a large part in my life as well. It helps me to unwind and enjoy the various ways creativity can expand our views of the world.