Britain’s retail CEOs are ‘not fit for purpose’


Nearly a third of the UK’s retail bosses are ‘not fit for purpose’, a new white paper conducted by the World Retail Congress suggests.

The survey, conducted on 100 of the most senior global executives in the sector, found that current CEOs are no longer equipped with the personal or technical abilities required to do their jobs.

The report, entitled ‘The DNA of the Future Retail CEO’, was published following the demise of BHS and Austin Reed, which announced administration this week, and comes as a stark warning to other high street retailers.


Researchers found that when they compared the backgrounds of the CEOs of the 32 UK’s largest retailers against the skills outlined by its global panel, there was a clear gap.

Nearly a third (29%) of the panel thought current UK CEOs were not fit for purpose when it comes to personal traits and 37% said current CEOs are lacking in technical skills.

“It is clear from the research that, in the eyes of our global panel, many incumbent CEOs simply don’t match up to their job description,” said Sir Ian Cheshire, the Chairman for Debenhams.

“Many retail CEOs are not seen as ‘fit-for-purpose’, particularly when it comes to their lack of mastery of digital and data-driven skills. This skills deficit – and question marks over the willingness of today’s CEOs to adapt – is a major concern for the sector. This is a serious worldwide challenge for current leaders,” he added.

The study also found that 31% of the 32 CEOs surveyed gained their expertise mainly through store operations, while a quarter only have experience in working for a single retail business throughout their career.

More than a quarter (28%) of current retail leaders have no further education, 66% have no experience working outside the retail sector and only 9% have online or digital skills.

The majority (91%) of the UK’s retail CEOs are male and 97% are white.

On the flip side, the report found that the new generation of retail CEOs will be better suited to the role by 2020 than their predecessors.

“Aspiring CEOs are going through a welcome evolution in terms of their backgrounds and breadth of experience more suited for the challenges ahead, but consumers are moving faster – they are in a state of revolution in terms of their expectations and behaviours,” said Cheshire.

“The second finding of this report therefore is that, as things stand, aspiring retail CEOs will still face a substantial deficit of online, digital and data skills by 2020, as well as requiring a far stronger understanding of customer behaviour than had been previously envisaged.”

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