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Retail leadership in crisis

Retail leadership teams are in crisis and “not fit for purpose” in a rapidly changing business environment, according to a major survey of Chairs, CEOs and senior executives from the retail sector across the world. Emma Herrod reports.

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Only 36% of respondents feel that their company’s leadership team is moving fast enough to keep up with changing consumer behaviour, a worrying finding of the research conducted by executive search firm Green Park and the World Retail Congress.


When it comes to digital leadership, confidence was even less with only 27% believing that their leadership team has the digital expertise necessary for success in the future. Just 26% feel that their leadership team has the necessary expertise in data and analytics for future success while only half (56%) believe their leadership team is not diverse enough to properly reflect their customers.


Overall, it was felt that members of retail leadership teams are more comfortable managing their own, silo and struggle to manage end-to-end processes.


The DNA of Future Retail Leadership study found that many top teams across the sector are criticised as “not fit for purpose” due to:

  • A failure of leadership and in particular an inability to adapt to the rapid changes to consumer behaviour brought about through technological change;

  • A failure of culture, with a functional, siloed set-up within leadership teams which is clearly unsuited to providing a seamless experience for customers who want to engage across multiple channels and touchpoints;

  • A lack of diversity within the top team, leading to less insight and focus on customer demands from a younger and rapidly diversifying consumer demographic;

  • A failure of skills with many retailers with a store-based legacy in particular struggling to implement transformational changes to make them more competitive against newer, pureplay companies with completely different attitudes to risk and innovation.


“This report should act as a wake-up call for much of the retail sector. As technological change increases in pace and consumers interact with brands in ever more innovative ways, it’s clear that in their own words, the leadership teams at many of our leading companies appear unable to adapt and as a result risk failure in the future,” says Steve Baggi, co-founder of Green Park and head of retail.


He continues: “However there is hope. Some companies, led by forward thinkers adept at using data and technology to harness insights about their customers are thriving. The rest of the sector can follow their lead, taking some of the strategies we lay out in the report to help ensure they too can prosper in tomorrow’s business environment”.

Three areas are highlighted where companies need to focus their strategies to create leadership teams with the skills, attributes and behaviours in order to survive, and thrive: They are to create: a hard-wired understanding of modern customer behaviour and mindset across all channels, with this insight linked directly to strategic decision making; a leadership structure embracing blurred lines rather than silos, which runs all channels to market in an integrated manner to provide a seamless experience for customers; a mindset in which all members of the leadership team regard digital as an integral part to each of their roles, using ongoing high quality data analysis to drive the company’s strategic vision.

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