Les Berglass of Berglass + Associates.


The composition of the c-suite in the fashion apparel, retail, luxury and accessories market is in for some big changes. Driven by the rapid acceleration of online shopping as well as a shift toward a consumer-centric retail environment, these changes will affect the required skills and experiences of the chief executive officer and chief marketing officer as well as the top merchants.

And according to a survey of senior-level executives at the recent WWD CEO Summit, these changes seem inevitable. Of those polled, 50 percent said they believed that over the next five years the role of the retail ceo will change, demanding that candidates have a strategic and proven digital track record.

Survey respondents totaled 110, and the poll was conducted by WWD in partnership with executive search firm Berglass + Associates.

Other key findings of the survey included that 57 percent of respondents said the biggest challenge facing today’s executive is for leaders to master balancing their store’s digital presence with their in-store experience. Regarding marketing roles, 49 percent of those polled said the duties of the cmo will include all aspects of the in-store experience as well as the digital one. Thirty-five percent said cmos “will be required to learn more about” marketing to Millennials while 16 percent see the cmo position as a path to the corner office.

“I’m not surprised by the results of the survey as it reflects what’s been happening in the market as digital expertise is increasingly required,” said Les Berglass, founder, chairman and ceo of the firm that bears his name. “For example, the role of the chief marketing officer is evolving to include a greater emphasis on digital and social media marketing.”

Moreover, Berglass sees these new marketing executive positions as offering a clear path to the ceo office. “Going forward, these new cmos — that have executed digital campaigns for retailers and brands — will be in direct competition with traditional merchants for ceo positions,” Berglass explained.

That said, Berglass said the role of the traditional merchant is in no way disappearing. These positions are being forced to evolve as well, Berglass said, adding that it includes a better understanding of consumer behavior. In the executive survey, 49 percent of respondents expect “merchants to be required to spend more time with consumers” to gain those insights. And 29 percent of those polled said they expect merchants to be requited to “learn more about Millennials’ point of view on fashion.”

Amid these requirements on a store and customer level, Berglass sees an impact on the overall retail market as well. Berglass said, for example, that traditional department stores are going through a significant reinvention that will demand a greater focus on collaboration throughout the store.”

Simultaneously, company boards and executive search committees will respond by looking beyond the traditional community of fashion apparel retailing. Of those polled, 55 percent expect executive leadership to be culled from the digital realm while 25 percent expect leaders to be tapped from other service sectors such as hospitality and restaurants. And 49 percent of respondents said they expect their own corporate boards to take on members with strong digital expertise.

Berglass acknowledges these changes will not be easy, and will require a shift in corporate culture for many companies. But as consumer shopping preferences change, retailers will have to reshape their organizations.

Berglass + Associates executive survey results.

Respondents see major changes in the c-suite. 

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