Retail chairmen relayed their concerns about immigration and prices post-Brexit in headhunter Korn Ferry’s 2017 survey. Here’s a selection of the issues that were front of mind.
On business outlook
Ian Cheshire, Debenhams chairman
“This is a pretty challenging environment. The foreign exchange impact on margins and the wider inflationary environment will all have an impact on consumer spending; more pressure on household budgets means less discretionary spend.
“There are some key structural challenges in the sector at present with an enormous number of people up for sale; I see more distressed sales likely and further shake-out to come.”
“We will see inflation coming in and there could be a slowdown in job creation, which may lead to a slight upswing in unemployment.
“They always say that ‘competition is the best regulator’, but the so-called ‘gig economy’ is exploiting the system without offering the same employment conditions as those in traditional retail”
“They always say that ‘competition is the best regulator’, but the so-called ‘gig economy’ is exploiting the system without offering the same employment conditions as those in traditional retail.
“The government needs to address this to look after hard-working staff and create a level playing field.”
On the movement of labour
Stefano Pessina, Walgreens Boots Alliance chairman
“We employ a lot of non-Brits. Whatever the agreement with the EU, there will be some restrictions on people coming to the UK.
“But I don’t see the UK pushing people out who are already working here. It is a country of long-standing tolerance.
“We need to see how the EU will develop. The EU will continue to exist, but the members cannot solve their problems overnight, so instability will remain.”
Brian McBride, Asos chairman
“At Asos we have about 2,000 people in London and more than 30% of them are from overseas. They will leave sooner if they are unnerved about the UK market, and that’s a risk for us”
“I’m still concerned about the movement of labour – we rely heavily on EU labour – and on the tech sector; a lot of great web designers and other tech people come from the EU.
“At Asos we have about 2,000 people in London and more than 30% of them are from overseas. They will leave sooner if they are unnerved about the UK market, and that’s a risk for us.”
Peter Williams, Boohoo.com chairman
“We’re already concerned. We run our own warehouse and employ several hundred Eastern Europeans at peak. In some cases we have had to pay for their passage over to the UK.
“There just isn’t the supply of labour locally and we have already found it harder to recruit due to the fall in the pound.”
On the general election
Nicky Dulieu, Nottcutts chairwoman
”I think it might just annoy people and lose some of the confidence that we have out there at the moment. I can see the reasoning behind it, but it feels at the moment that it will just lead to even more distraction.
“I think the general public are pretty fed up listening to politicians right now.”
Paul Mason, Dr Martens chairman
“If Theresa May’s predictions are correct and she increases her majority, it could be beneficial to retail, among a number of other industries”
“I think the early election could have a positive impact on retail. During election periods, consumers change their shopping habits.
“If Theresa May’s predictions are correct and she increases her majority, it could be beneficial to retail, among a number of other industries.”
“Price increases are inevitable but retailers will take a range of approaches. Most likely it will be about changing the mix, the price architecture, or pack sizes, so the impact is not so obvious.
“The overall fact of the matter though is that you can’t avoid it.”
Richard Pennycook, Fenwick and The Hut Group chairman
“Particularly in grocery, the consumer will see 3-4% inflation coming through the basket”
“Some costs will inevitably have to be passed on to the consumer and there will be certain pressures. How this will look across the industry will vary based on the strength of the brand.
“Particularly in grocery, the consumer will see 3-4% inflation coming through the basket.”
On boardroom diversity
Sir Ian Cheshire
“We have to recognise unconscious bias, put it on the agenda, and start working on it. It requires positive change rather than someone saying it’ll happen by magic”
“The topic is something we need to look harder at, and retail probably needs to do a bit more at all levels of the organisation.
“We have to recognise unconscious bias, put it on the agenda, and start working on it. It requires positive change rather than someone saying it’ll happen by magic.”
“We are certainly alive to it, but board rotation and development takes time. My boards are conscious of the need to be representative of the communities they serve.
“Rather than thinking about quotas or any particular group, we work towards a board that is reflective of the customer base they are appealing to.”
David Adams, Conviviality Retail chairman
“We are not talking enough as a business community about wider diversity. We are a multicultural society. The conversation will, and should be, widened to ethnic diversity.”
Simon Burke, Blue Diamond chairman
“I am only interested in people that can do a good job. I do not think that legislation to control diversity is necessary, and the choice of people based solely on their ethnic background can be counterproductive.
”People are then set up for failure as they are pushed into positions that are not appropriate, and prejudices are in fact reinforced when they cannot perform.”