Matthew Berglass, Kara Council, and Johanna Murphy

In order to be successful leaders today, executives must have digital savvy to complement their business acumen.

“You have to have the right balance of right brain and left brain,” said Johanna Murphy, global chief marketing officer of Rag & Bone during a round-table discussion about the changing face of leadership at the WWD Digital Forum. “You have to be innovative and forward-thinking, but you still have to understand the fundamentals of the business.”

Kara Council, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of consumer experience for Kenneth Cole Productions, agreed, saying that leaders need a “mix of visionary and tactical” skills.

As recently as three or four years ago, Murphy said, there was little interaction at most companies between the hipster-skewed digital teams and the “gray-haired” brick-and-mortar group. But that’s changing.

“There has to be synergy,” Council said.

“The chief digital officer today is the ceo,” Murphy added. And while those older than 40 may not be as comfortable with new media as those who grew up in a digital age, “we’re starting to see an evolution — it’s everybody’s game.”

Since the Eighties, the size of the c-suite — the corporation’s top executives — has doubled from five to 10 and it is estimated that by the end of this year, half of the companies in the U.S. will have a chief digital officer. In a study commissioned by WWD and Berglass + Associates, it is projected that the number of marketing executives in the c-suite will increase by 50 percent over the next five years.

But finding these people is not easy, and more than 60 percent of respondents believe leadership will come from outside the fashion industry, the study found.

Matthew Berglass, president of Berglass + Associates, said executives who are drawn to fashion from other industries have for the most part fit in well. “The track record has been fine,” he said, noting that most leaders who come from “consumer-facing businesses” do OK.

Regardless of who fills the seat, it is the consumer who ultimately calls the shots.

Berglass said that while having merchant skills is still important for retailers, understanding customer needs is perhaps more essential today.

At Kenneth Cole’s new store in New York City, Council said the company has twinned virtual and physical attributes to meet those needs. Customers can shop the entire assortment on touch screens at the store, and product is shipped within 24 hours. In addition, the store itself is open 24 hours a day if a shopper finds a need for a new leather jacket at 3 a.m.

Council said this is all part of the brand’s quest to create a “seamless experience” for its customers between the Internet and the brick-and-mortar location.

Council said that in all channels, the goal is to “be intuitive” and anticipate consumer needs.

And today’s chief executive officer “has to be the biggest advocate of the customer,” Murphy believes. “Someone has to be channel-agnostic.”

Berglass said that for most people, there’s no difference between online or in-store shopping. “This is not about channel filters,” he said.


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