Disrupting Business as Usual – The Leadership Difference

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The growth of eCommerce and decline of brick-and-mortar retail spaces is calling on businesses to seek out leaders who understand the digital age we live. Data driven individuals who can look at what customers want not only today but what they will want tomorrow.

Over the past decade, seismic shifts in consumer behavior have triggered waves of reaction as retailers struggle to remain relevant and profitable. Cultural-societal, economic and generational factors have redefined how consumers view themselves, their place in society and their relationship with the world. Consumers are being more intentional about their values, the work they do, what they consume, and with whom they do business. Increasingly, consumers – particularly Millennials – are actively evaluating companies’ product messaging, corporate citizenship and business models in order to align themselves with brands that resonate with their values. They demand authentic brands that “get them;” that they understand who they are, what they need and to what they aspire. Importantly, the identities, needs and aspirations of these consumers are continuously evolving – and they’re demanding that retailers keep pace.

The proliferation of digital content and the increasing dominance of eCommerce has enabled and accelerated this change. The technologies, and resulting changes in supply chain and logistics processes, pioneered by digital businesses have set the bar for speed of delivery and business agility when it comes to giving consumers what they want, when they want it. With an unbridled capacity to operate with speed and dexterity, these companies rapidly envision, test, try, and modify business strategies without the structural and process impediments faced by brick-and-mortar retailers.

The impact of these changes on traditional retailers has been well documented1. Store traffic continues to decline and, while associated eCommerce grows, it has not offset the revenue lost through dwindling foot traffic. Responding to the challenge can be a daunting prospect, but it’s a sure bet that “business as usual” is not the answer. The companies that will not only survive, but will thrive in this environment will be those that understand the value of customer intimacy and truly knowing their customers – and those that have the leadership, technology and operational agility to get ahead of the change curve to deliver what their customers want today, as well as what they will want tomorrow, in a way that engenders ongoing trust and loyalty.

As industry insiders, we’ve experienced this challenge first hand, and we understand the difference between “business as usual” and disruptive innovation is leadership. Leaders who demonstrate vision, foresight, courage and a deep sensitivity to customers and employees are the key differentiator when it comes to creating business success in this rapidly fluctuating landscape. These leaders build diverse and creative teams capable of dynamically assimilating change and, instead of thinking in terms of bifurcated bricks and digital channels, they truly understand the contemporary consumer’s desire for the right products accessed through a single, fully integrated, cross-channel shopping experience.

Demand for chief technology officers in this business environment has understandably risen, but there is equal demand for leaders across disciplines that are data literate, with the ability to analyze, read and respond to data, and accurately forecast based on an exhaustive understanding of what customers want – and will want differently tomorrow.

“Can a digital immigrant lead in an eCommerce reality?” This is the question CHRO Dennis Armstrong2 posed during a recent conversation. He notes that “Digital natives have a facility with technology and data that those entrenched in the status quo do not. They know the difference between ‘adapt and survive’ and ‘adapt and thrive.’ The 360-degree customer experience is their nature – not second nature.

“Digital immigrants [sic, those who rose to adulthood prior to the technology revolution], in contrast, are generally quick to acknowledge change, but slow to adapt… The challenge is to find those digital [natives or] immigrants who have the diversity of background and experience to lead in a channel agnostic, functionally matrixed organization, and the ability to understand how to leverage the benefits of both the digital and bricks channels to the customers’ advantage.”

Leaders most likely to succeed will have backgrounds that include a mix of industries, business models and even disciplines. The most reliable predictor of success however, is a track record of sound, data-based judgement, coupled with consistent investment in developing people and teams. Intellectual acuity with disciplined thinking that allows for multi-dimensional analysis and creative problem-solving, as well as the ability to develop and communicate a clear vision are also critical, as is a hands-on, agile management style that wins the full endorsement of their organization as they initiate and roll out disruptive new strategies.

These leaders drive the catalytic change necessary to create and sustain business success. They understand the importance of designing organizational structures that support a single customer experience and they break down the silos that impede progress. They also recognize the need to create succession plans that identify and develop the next generation of leaders, and know when to engage the right partner to facilitate those plans.

We at Centerstone Executive Search & Consulting have made it our business to know these leaders and have cultivated relationships that provide us access to them as they seek new challenges, and to their input as we evaluate those on their heels. We’re in the business of leadership, and disrupting “business as usual.”

Unlike most search firms that are managed by consultants who have built their careers in search exclusively, Centerstone has compiled a team of industry insiders: individuals who have held positions of leadership across a broad range functional areas including Marketing, Merchandising, Sales, Operations and Human Resources and Organization Development. As a result, we can offer our clients a firsthand understanding of the unique challenges faced by leaders in the retail sector. We understand the roles and we know the specific business and functional acumen required to be successful in delivering game-changing results. In addition, our CEO, Dr. Kim Villeneuve, and Managing Directors Ann Gratz and Beth Goldstein, are all experts in organizational development, bringing a valuable understanding of the impact on organizational structures of today’s ever-changing consumer and technology dynamic.

While any good search firm should demonstrate a talent for identifying and qualifying candidates, our broad industry knowledge and relationships differentiate us, allowing us to consistently present candidates who are at the top in their field and have demonstrated outstanding abilities to navigate this new consumer landscape.

As industry insiders we also have personal experience with the pain of lengthy and unproductive searches that leave companies at risk as resources are stretched to cover leadership voids. In response to this, we pioneered an innovative, proprietary process to accelerate critical Executive Search assignments, delivering results in record time. Working directly with hiring authorities – often the CEO or Board – and utilizing our uniquely re-engineered approach, we are able to expedite the presentation of deeply vetted, best-in-industry business disrupters; top talent uniquely suited to your organization, who can deliver game-changing results. We invite you to reach out to us at your convenience, to learn more about how this search offering can help you gain a competitive edge.

1 Stores Confront New World of Reduced Shopper Traffic by Shelly Banjo and Dew Fitszgerald, Wall Street Journal January 16, 2014
2 Our thanks to Dennis Armstrong for his contributions. Dennis is currently the CHRO for Blaine’s Supply Inc. and held the positions of CHRO for Vitamix and SVP Human Resources, Victoria’s Secret.
  There’s a ‘dirty open secret’ in retail and it’s killing Macy’s and Gap, Mallory Schlossberg, June 27, 2016, www.businessInsider.com