Cariloha CEO, Jeff Pedersen, Receives CEO of the Year Award

utah business magazine cover march 2014
CEO of the Year
By Utah Business editors | Photography by Eric Delphenich

Leadership doesn’t start and end with a title—it requires innovation, adaptability, decisiveness and the unique ability to inspire. In the next few pages, we honor eight CEOs who live and breathe these traits. These are chief execs who don’t just talk the talk, they are true visionaries who have an unflinching dedication to see their companies and employees succeed. They are accomplished professionals with the numbers and histories to back them up. They bring a higher level of passion and dedication to all that they do. Join us as we celebrate these outstanding chief executives who exemplify what it means to be a leader.

Jeff Pedersen
Chairman and CEO, PW Companies

Jeff Pedersen isn’t one to leave well enough alone. In 2007, his company’s Del Sol stores were doing well, selling products that changed color in the sun at stores in cruise-ship port towns. But Pedersen decided the company could be doing more. He decided to launch a brand, Cariloha, which would sell products to tourists at a higher price point.

Cariloha got off to a slow start. Sales were poor and the brand seemed doomed to fail, but Pedersen wasn’t willing to accept that. He and the company’s other top executives traveled to the stores to investigate how they could do better. After spending time interacting with customers and the employees on the front lines, he decided the store would need big changes to survive. He sought a unique niche for the store to fill and found it in bamboo, a material that is sustainable, versatile and can be used to make soft, breathable fabrics. The company sold off Cariloha’s existing inventory, moved to an entirely bamboo-based line of products and redesigned the stores’ interiors.

It was a bold move in the midst of a recession, but it paid off. There are now 41 Cariloha stores in 12 countries, which did just over $25 million in revenue last year.

“Jeff is a great visionary. He sees a vision and understands how to execute that vision,” says Brent Rowser, PW Companies’ CFO. “When others see only forward, Jeff has a great ability to see around corners—to seize opportunities we can capitalize on or obstacles we need to avoid.”

Pedersen is no stranger to the front lines. He began his career with the company as an intern with his wife at a Del Sol store on the island of St. Martin. He spent the days talking to customers, bringing them into the store and selling to them. When he returned to Utah, he became head of the company’s internship department and developed it into a program that has given more than 1,200 people at the start of their careers the chance to gain valuable business experience. Currently, 70 percent of PW Companies’ corporate staff started out as interns in a Del Sol or Cariloha retail location.

Pedersen says he loves running a company that becomes part of people’s vacations. For many customers, a visit to Del Sol or Cariloha is more than just a shopping trip—it becomes a memorable part of their cruise experience, marked by friendly employees and a fun atmosphere. But, for Pedersen, the chance to improve the lives of employees is even better.

“The thing I love most about my job is to see people develop and build careers with us,” Pedersen says. “When you have 1,200 people every day who make their living and put food on their table as result of selling the products that we make, that’s very gratifying.”

• PW Companies brands, Cariloha and Del Sol, increased their retail sales by 116 percent in 2013.
• Pedersen formed a partnership with Disney’s consumer products division, allowing it to sell Disney, Marvel and Pixar-branded products in Del Sol stores.
• He also instituted a program called Live Your Dream-365, which gives employees the chance to receive $2,500 grants to put toward achieving their life goals, such as obtaining degrees, climbing mountains, gaining new skills and many others.