Retail’s Most Effective Leaders Have These Skills in Common

Excerpted from Footwear News: Depending on who you ask, there’s never been a better — or worse — time to be a leader in fashion retail. On one hand, digital disruption — from e-commerce pure plays and DTC pioneers — along with a shrinking middle class and consumer spending shifts have helped send many traditional names packing. On the other, a breadth of technological innovation coupled with a fresh focus on diversity and inclusion and critical causes like sustainability create fertile ground for a meaningful retail evolution.

Recruiting experts agree that much like the industry they lead, only retail’s strongest, most adaptable visionaries will survive — and thrive — in this climate.

“The industry has had to move away from being merchant, product, trend and fashion driven to now requiring a deeper understanding of customers based on data,” said Kathy Ventura, managing partner, consumer and marketing practice at Caldwell.

“[When we recruit], we’re looking for a leader — whether it’s a marketer, a merchant or a head of operations — to have an understanding of how to build a business based on technology and a strong data foundation. Then, they have to take that data and [apply it to] building an experience for customers.”

Still, Ventura noted that external recruitment shouldn’t replace a company’s own efforts to groom its existing workforce. “We also have to encourage companies to grow those desired skills
internally. You have to develop talent and set your employees up to succeed,” she said.

One area where change has been especially dramatic is in the social media realm. In the past two years, brands from all across footwear and apparel — including Under Armour, New Balance, Gucci and Burberry — shouldered boycott threats across social media over a range of purported social and moral infractions. And just last month, a viral video outside of a Nike store — showing a white store manager accusing an African-American family of stealing a $12 basketball — compelled the brand to issue an apology. “In this current day — especially in retail— if a CEO isn’t looking at their own social media [or doesn’t] have their corporate communication and social media team out there measuring it and looking at their brand health — they’re going to run into trouble,” Ventura said. “It’s a question of ‘when’ not ‘if.’”

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