What does the ever-increasing pressure on retail CEOs mean for future leaders?

What does the ever-increasing pressure on retail CEOs mean for future leaders?
Published: 9 March 2020

In 2019, CEO turnover within UK retail reached a seven-year high. This comes as no surprise, with the industry continuing to face multiple critical challenges. What is clear is that there is no escaping the pace of change, which is being driven not only by technology but by consumers whose needs, beliefs and lifestyles are changing. With 2020 set to remain just as challenging for the sector and its leaders, how can future leaders prepare for this? Alka Gandhi, head of Berwick Partners’ Retail and Leisure practice, explains.

As a headhunter whose focus is on the next generation of C-suite leaders – including those that are one or two steps away from the top table – my concern is that it’s simply not enough to be a functional or even industry expert anymore.

What is evident is that future leaders will need to build a framework of skills and behaviours to take them beyond the world they know well and, frankly, into the unknown. They will require new skills and, more importantly, attributes that are essential to help them and their businesses to grow and develop, whilst also ensuring their self-preservation.

So, what is it that future leaders require to equip themselves in a world where uncertainty is the norm?

  • Resilience – Develop coping mechanisms that will allow them to manage challenges and pressures on a daily basis. Remember, ‘no man is an island’: building an external as well as internal network is key.
  • Curiosity – Constantly push themselves into the unknown. Visit other businesses and speak with other leaders. Be willing to learn and look to other sectors and be willing to adapt accordingly. Ask the uncomfortable questions.
  • Courage – Be brave and trust your own intuition. Foster a culture where it is ok to try something new and fail. Be comfortable trying new concepts, business models and ideas. Failure to do so could result in leadership and business paralysis.
  • Leadership judgement and emotional intelligence – Balance analytical data with knowledge and intuition. Experience combined with insight is a powerful tool! Understand how leadership decisions impact across the end-to-end business by gaining as much functional experience diversity as possible.
  • Authenticity and humility – Be yourself. No one can keep up a façade forever. Let your teams see that you are human and have made mistakes, but also share those learnings. Listen to your people as they often have the answers. Lead from the front; be clear that it is ok to have tough days and show them they will be supported when this happens.
  • Effective communication – Develop an open and transparent style of leadership to ensure you take your people with you on the journey. Most businesses are in some stage of business transformation and, looking ahead, this is likely to remain the norm.
  • A ’people first’ approach – A great strategy alone cannot save or even grow a business: it needs good people. Mike Logue, CEO of dreams explained how he demonstrated this approach throughout his turnaround strategy in our recent 'Five minutes with...' interview.
  • Honesty – Accept that you don’t have all the answers – surround yourself with talented and committed leaders.
  • Self-care – Leadership burnout is reportedly at its highest level. Individuals need to build in time to recharge and ensure that mental health and well-being remain an important priority as they progress through their career.

The UK has a history of producing some of the world’s most influential and successful retail leaders. However, against a tricky backdrop, businesses need to assess their external future talent requirements through a different lens whilst ensuring that they equip their internal talent with the opportunity to develop a more diverse skill set fit for the ‘Retail 2020-2030 era’.

In our recent ‘Transformational Leaders' interview, Peter Pritchard, Group CEO of Pets at Home explained how he believes that future leaders will be judged not just on their numbers but also on their legacy. All the above factors will surely shape that legacy!

For more information, please contact Alka Gandhi, Head of the Retail & Leisure practice across our offices in Manchester, London and Birmingham. She specialises in leadership appointments partnering with businesses led by transformation, turnaround or investment growth strategies. Her clients include blue-chip, family owned, private equity and SME’s.Her functional experience extends across commercial, marketing, e- commerce, B&M and operations.

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