The DNA of the future retail CEO

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The boards of nine out of every 10 retail companies will be past their sell-by date within five years, according to initial findings of new research by the World Retail Congress and Green Park.

The report, which will be a hot topic for debate at the World Retail Congress in Rome this week suggests that there is a poor self-perception of top talent within the retail industry.

The retail landscape is becoming more complex and more personalised. This, coupled with rapidly changing technology and the increasingly international nature of the industry, means tomorrow’s boards will need new skills.

But are those skills available? What do companies need to do to train the next generation of leaders?

Today’s boards mainly consist of individuals who have grown up in one discipline. However, a more holistic leader is required to keep up with the rapidly changing retail environment. These future challenges will need to be addressed by individuals who can draw from experience across multiple functions, such as digital, store, supply chain and product, therefore providing better insight into customer behaviour.

The findings are based on interviews with almost 50 chairmen, CEOs and HR directors such as Ian Grabiner, chief executive of Arcadia Group, Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of John Lewis Partnership, Andrew Higginson, chairman of Morrisons and Phil Wrigley, chairman of Hobbs and Majestic Wine.

The CEO of the future will be technologically savvy with the ability to focus on relevant data to help with strategic decisions. In order to adapt to this uncertain environment they have to be able to make rapid decisions and prepared to “think the unthinkable”. By acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers, the future retailer CEO will also insist and facilitate greater challenge from their boards and NEDs with experience of other sectors such as technology and language skills.

The findings reveal that legacy and structural issues have led to an increased move towards unity of strategic purpose at board level among successful companies. Acknowledging the future challenges and preparing accordingly can lead to talent retention, deeper customer insight and ensuring market proposition remains relevant.

Peter Williams, Chairman, Boohoo.com & Senior Independent Director of Rightmove, said: “Today many retail boards are still too old in years and too backward in knowledge to deal with the paradigm shifts created both by technology and the change in consumer shopping behaviour. A step change is needed to bring younger consumers with technology and digital media skills onto the board.”

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