The need for digital-savvy and creativity in retail’s future leaders opens the pool of candidates far beyond this sector.
There’s no doubt technology is disrupting industries across the globe. But what does this mean for today’s retail leaders?
To answer this question, I recently spoke with Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Debenhams, at a ‘Future Retail CEO’ event organised by Page Executive.
What to consider
He had six key leadership considerations to share. He began by broaching that in today’s transparent, digital world, there is nowhere to hide. A chief executive has to be authentic with team members and customers, because everything they do and say is out there for all to see.
“If a chief executive isn’t data-driven enough they will struggle, yet being solely data-centric can hinder creativity and innovation”
Secondly, be customer-led against product-led. Although retail bosses need to be commercial enough to understand the business model, product and retail operations experience is less important than before.
With the continuing boom in ecommerce, a retail leader must have global and multichannel experience, but also be a digital native and true brand developer.
On the flip side of this data focus, is the potential loss of creativity. If a chief executive isn’t data-driven enough they will struggle, yet being solely data-centric can hinder creativity and innovation.
To keep up with the competition, tomorrow’s retail boss will need to find and maintain an optimum balance between humans and machines in their workforce.
Finally, collaborative leadership skills are increasingly important for the future retail boss – the success of their company will rely on their ability to work with the right, diverse mix of people and to delegate strategically.
In the future, it will be virtually impossible for a leader to possess all the knowledge necessary to run a retail business – they’ll have to depend on others.
With the emphasis now on a different set of skills, the list of suitable retail leader candidates is soon set to encompass professionals from a wider range of customer-facing businesses.
“Collaborative leadership skills are increasingly important for the future retail boss – the success of their company will rely on their ability to work with the right, diverse mix of people and to delegate strategically”
This transition is already taking place, with the retail industry no longer focused on hiring horizontally, but instead looking for great leaders with a customer-first, mobile-first mentality – over relevant retail experience.
The future retail boss could come from any customer-facing industry, which offers both a huge opportunity, and increased level of competition for those eying up a leadership role.
Nicola Wensley is director of fashion at Page Executive