Where it all began: An Interview with our CEO Ru Wood

Where did your journey with Wasteland begin? 

Wasteland had been going in some capacity for a couple of years when I joined up with Ted, it was incorporated in October 94 i.e. it became a registered business and I was out in Val D’Isere doing my last of two ski seasons. When I got back in May of 95 I spent the summer working down in Devon and in September got back and started running a clothing label called BURGS clothing out of a new shop we set up on the Fulham Road. BURGS kit was great and BURGS started at the same time as Whitestuff and Fatface…all original Val D’Isere brands. Whitestuff and Fatface went on to do great things…BURGS sadly faded away over the next few years but it was definitely the cooler, more original brand run by a really charismatic bloke called Guy Lucking who now lives out in Bali. Anyway, Ted was clearly getting people buying ski holidays that wanted to pay by credit card but he had no facility to take cards. He made an arrangement with Guy’s dad I think so that he could put the card details through the machine at the shop…BURGS would then pay him the money later. So about every few weeks, Ted would rock upon his knackered old Vespa scooter which only had about two gears. He’d come into the shop with maybe 6 credit card numbers written on a scrap of paper or an old envelope, and we’d sit and put the info through the BURGS credit card machine…he’s then leave in a puff of smoke and noise. This went on for a while…eventually, bored of running the shop, I asked him if he had a job…I knew the guy that was occasionally helping him, Tommy Tudor was going. I started with Teddy in September 96 at 21 Jordan Place Fulham Broadway…£125 a week, cash in hand…..everything was in cash!!

What’s the craziest story from your time running the company? 

Oh god, from clients kicking the wall down between apartments so they didn’t have to go in and out via the corridor, to microwaves being thrown out of windows, to overtaking the gendarmes in Val D’isere hight street with 10 people in golf, all pissed, to parties we’ve sponsored…there are too many stories. I remember we were sponsoring this party in Battersea park once and took our Blimp to fly from the marquee. It took us about two hours to fill it with helium and we then got it airborne. At the end of the evening, everyone was pissed so we dragged the blimp down, and about 50 people in black tie set about sucking the helium out with predictable “squeaky-voiced” results. We then had about 3 or 4 people pass out because they’d apparently had too much helium which was a bit scary but also very funny….try laughing a lot when you’re full of helium. We also took the Blimp to a Mayday ball in Oxford once. Ted and I rocked up in the gold bit couldn’t locate any helium in the area. So we tried to get creative by hoping that if we pumped in hot air to the balloon, it would fly like a normal hot air balloon. We didn’t have any natural hot air source so we decided to attach the blimp to the exhaust of the Golf, seal the connection and we sat in the car and ragged the engine for about two hours trying to fill the Blimp with hot air. We hadn’t really thought about the effects of carbon monoxide and both probably nearly killed ourselves…..the Blimp didn’t fly, we recovered and had a great party! I was also in Val D’Isere one season…early on. We’d done client arrivals the night before…everyone was happy so we’d all gone out that night until about 3 am. Most of the reps in those days were just mates..it was all very casual. At about 8 am the next morning, I got a call from reception asking me to come down as there had been “noise” issues the night before and the residence manager wanted someone to shout at. I quickly left the apartment very sleepy and wearing no shoes. I got ushered into the office, probably still smelling of booze, and got a right bollocking I was told that in no uncertain terms, the manager would be contacting RU and Ted urgently to discuss things. I still have a copy of that Fax (which was sent to Ted and me…about me) but she never knew it was me in her office!!!! I will send you a copy!

Wasteland has been around for 27 years what is the secret of its longevity?

Just being original, playful, and always trying to think youthfully about what we do. We’re prepared to have a go, we don’t want to be mundane and boring, we’ve always been a little cheeky. Young clients love this which is why we are rightfully perceived as the more original thinkers within this niche sector. We also deliver fantastic trips which speak for themselves so we’ve obviously been doing a lot right for a long time. I think we’ve also been goo strategically over the years in terms of partnerships and perceived value. Moving forwards…perception is so important…we get a fresh influx of students every year….they just need to know where the best and importantly, the ones that understand them. Never take things too seriously and become robotic…brands need character and I think there’s been a lot of character over the years.

How would you define success? 

Having four fab children and a brilliant wife and being fortunate to live in a beautiful house and to be able to enjoy life. Wasteland is like my 5th child and as a child…needs constant attention and direction. I’d say that Wasteland is currently a bit of a bolshy teenager still with a bit of growing up to do but that within a few years it will have properly transitioned into adulthood and it can go out into the world and take advantage of all the available opportunities. Getting the business to that point is success and then watching it fly. If I can get it there, and we’re getting close, then I’ll feel that it’s been a success.

What’s your favorite aspect about running Wasteland? 

The people, the culture, the variety, the freedom, the fun, the ability to chart our own future, not having to wear a suit, always finding ways of being better. It’s never-ending but the weeks fly by and have for 25 years..I’ve never clock watched once which surely means I’m doing something I love right?

What has been your most satisfying moment in business? 

In all honesty…we’re nearly there, but it will be surviving a global pandemic and steering the business, with the help of a small team, through the most turbulent waters a business should ever have to face. It seems a bit nuts but its been hugely challenging and pushes you and others to your limits. It’s been far from perfect but given that we also operate in probably the two most heavily affected sectors, Travel, and Events, we will hopefully come through and give ourselves a much-deserved pat on the back…as they say….its been emotional!!!

If you could spend 30 minutes with one person dead or alive – who would it be? and what would you ask them? 

This is the toughest one because there are just too many people I’d love to chat too. I love adventurers and people who push themselves in the pursuit of new and original things. I’d love to speak to George Mallory and Sandy Irvine and ask them “Did you make it??” George Mallory’s body was found not too far from the summit of Everest in 1999 after 75 years. Whether he got to the summit still remains a mystery as he died on the mountain. If he did, it would change history by 30 years or so as Edmund Hillary is the first acknowledged climber of Everest in 1953 – 29 years later. During the 1924 expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, disappeared on the northeast ridge of Everest. The pair were last seen when they were about 800 vertical feet (245 m) from the summit. Mallory’s ultimate fate was unknown for 75 years until his body was discovered on 1 May 1999 by an expedition that had set out to search for the climbers’ remains. Whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before they died remains a subject of speculation and continuing research.

I’d also love to spend time with Ernest Shackleton and Scott to talk about the race to the North Pole and the sail across the South Atlantic in an open boat to South Georgia to save hid entire crew still stranded on Elephant Island…..totally insane story!!

If you were an animal what would you be?

A Chimp!!

What advice would you give to students aspiring to run a company?  And what advice would you give to students who have no idea what they want to do? 

Firstly be clear about what you DON’T want to do. You need to experience other jobs in order to direct you to where you feel your place is. Make sure you’re really interested and excited by what you do. Always employ people that are better than you, ensure you are well structured, you have a plan, and that the plan is well communicated so that everyone gets “buy-in” Work hard…enjoy it, have fun…..but you don’t live to work…you work to live. Have an end game…BE PATIENT, all good things come to those that wait.

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