Only 17% of retail CEOs and board directors are actively engaged in succession planning, according to a report published today at World Retail Congress.

The research, by executive search firm Korn Ferry, found that 70% of CEOs and board members surveyed thought the quality of their senior management had been key to surviving the downturn, but 45% feared that executive turnover will be a serious issue for their businesses over the next two to three years.

Speaking at a panel session debating the findings, Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire explained how his organisation is trying to ensure its top 250 managers in particular are equipped for the changes he is making to the company, which involve much greater co-operation between its operating companies in different countries.

Drawing an analogy from football he said “We need them to be able to operate on two levels - playing for the international team whilst playing for their clubs.”

He said getting the mix of skills right was crucial to getting the combination of “creativity plus ruthless execution” which he said was vital to retail success. “We need people who challenge the status quo and those who try to engineer it better,” he said.

Cheshire said Kingfisher is moving senior executives around the business to give them greater exposure to its constituent parts, which he said was key to equipping them to be chief executives of the future. He added that a new rule is being introduced where every manager must be able to identify two successors for their job.