A bright and secure future for a business is balanced on all key stakeholders being happy. Spencer Stuart’s Sally Elliott and Susan Hart focus on how retailers can serve all key parties and keep the outlook optimistic.

This year’s World Retail Congress theme “roadmap to rebuild a better retail” was a poignant one, especially for Spencer Stuart as the event’s Knowledge Partner for Leadership. 

A key priority for rebuilding for a strong, sustainable future, say CEOs, is articulating a clear and consistent purpose that serves all stakeholders, including customers, employees and the greater society. 

Stakeholder: the customer

The customer is the first and most obvious stakeholder. 

During the pandemic, some retail organisations bore financial losses in the interest of better serving customer interests. Sometimes, doing the right thing is more important than short-term revenue and can support long-term, sustainable customer relationships. 

Ken Murphy, group chief executive at Tesco, says: “Doing the right thing for customers was costly short term, but has enabled us to grow our customer base overall. We added another 700,000 customers.”

Stakeholder: the employee

Health and safety have always been important from a physical point of view for employees, but psychological safety and wellbeing have really come to the forefront over the past couple of years. 

“In some ways,” says Ashish Dikshit, managing director of Aditya Birla Group, a leading Indian fashion conglomerate, “the whole crisis has brought real human beings out of anonymous employees and organisations. 

“It’s pushing organisations to rethink and evaluate their purpose with greater sensitivity for their employees versus only shareholders.”

Stakeholder: the greater community and the world

Leaders increasingly think in terms of a broad set of stakeholders when driving towards a truly sustainable business strategy, including the environment and society. 

Every leader today is acutely aware of how their company aligns with community values. 

A grocery store is no longer just a grocery store, but, as Noel Keeley of Musgrave, Ireland’s leading food retailer, says: “Our purpose at Musgrave is ‘growing good business’ and that means growing businesses that are commercially successful, obviously, but also that ‘do good’ in the community. 

Every leader today is acutely aware of how their company aligns with community values

“We can’t think of our jobs as merely operating supermarkets or supply chains, but to actually keep food on the table for the people of Ireland.” 

In fact, Musgrave feeds one in three people in Ireland every day, making it not just an essential service but one that is integral to the functioning of the country. 

Leaning into this big picture of purpose was powerful for every grocery enterprise that successfully weathered the past few years.

A future for all

This attention to all the different kinds of stakeholders that matter in retail comes up again and again in our conversations with leaders. 

The move from capitalism for shareholders to creating value for all stakeholders is a major point of differentiation today. 

Leaders must think in terms of a broad set of stakeholders when driving towards a truly sustainable business strategy.

Read more in our full report The Future of Retail: How CEOs are rebuilding for a strong sustainable future.


Sally Elliot

Sally Elliott is co-leader of global retail practice at Spencer Stuart  



Susan Hart is co-leader of global retail practice at Spencer Stuart