Number of retail CEO job changes highest in five years

The number of retail CEOs changing roles has spiked in the last year as the weak pound continues to fuel inflation and pressures on margins mount.

With 50 switches at the top in 2017, industry moves are at their highest since 2012 – when 56 CEOs left their seats, according to the annual Retail CEO Tracker published by recruitment firm Korn Ferry.

In 2016, 41 retail CEOs changed positions.

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The report attributes the dramatic year-on-year increase of 22% to a weak pound fuelling inflation and increasing pressures on margins, while brands continue to undergo significant digital change.

Of 2017’s CEO moves, 50% had been with their respective businesses for just four years or less, but in some cases this was considerably shorter.

Sarah Lim, managing director for Retail EMEA at Korn Ferry said: “Chopping and changing leadership directly affects the performance of Britain’s retailers. When a new CEO arrives, they come with their own vision. These short tenures create instability and are not long enough to embed a sustainable transformation plan.

“Retailers are going through major transition, reducing stores, developing mobile, online & other channels to market – whilst fighting pure-play online competitors with lower overheads. Successful turnaround takes time, and coupled with the economic and political instability triggered by Brexit, it’s unsurprising that many retailers are struggling with profitability.”

Korn Ferry’s research also found that there were more leaders appointed from longstanding retail operations and general management (14) than any other discipline, representing 28% of all those hired.

This is a new trend for 2017, and indicates a preference for experienced hires.

Lim added: “The trend for hiring CEOs from operations symbolises the appeal of those with a pedigree in running retail businesses – these are seasoned operators with demonstrable track records. Boards and shareholders want greater assurance that people know their stuff, can land the strategy quickly and improve returns.”

2017 CEO Movers and Shakers in Lingerie Retail
Five bosses who left their roles or joined new companies. Click on the names for more information.

Wolford CEO Ashish Sensarma
Ashish Sensarma, who has served as CEO since January 7, 2015, resigned from the brand’s management board on July 31.

N Brown chairman Andrew Higginson
After almost five years at the company, Higginson announced in June that she has decided to pursue new opportunities in private equity.

Incoming Seafolly CEO Paul Kotrba
Australian swimwear brand Seafolly has appointed Paul Kotrba, the former commercial head at DKNY, as its new CEO. Kotrba is an experienced global retail executive with over 15 years spent in New York City at Donna Karan and DKNY during the period of ownership under LVMH.

House of Fraser CEO Alex Williamson
In May, House of Fraser announced the appointment of Alex Williamson as its new CEO. Williamson joined the premium department store chain from Goodwood, the group behind the Goodwood Revival and Festival of Speed, where he has been chief executive since December 2012.

Harvey Nichols CEO Stacey Cartwright
Luxury department store Harvey Nichols announced in September that it is axing the position of CEO as part of a staffing overhaul. Stacey Cartwright, who took on the position of CEO in 2014, will stepped into the role of deputy chairman this month.

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