Changing Retail Landscape Prompts Drive for C-level Talent

Chain Store Age spoke with Melissa Reed, Global Partner at H.I. Executive Consulting, about the recent uptick in hiring of top-level technology executives in retail. High-profile examples this year include Levi Strauss appointing Vodafone data chief Katia Walsh as chief strategy and artificial intelligence officer and Pinterest tapping Walmart CTO Jeremy King as head of engineering.

“The push to hire C-level technology executives is a reflection of the state of the retail market,” said Reed. “Disruption is occurring as technology trends like data and artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), voice-enabled search, and automation mature.”

Because retail as a sector has historically not done a good job of building technology talent, Reed said now the industry needs to play catch-up to obtain the people it needs. Fortunately, she said retail is more appealing to highly qualified technology executives than it used to be.

“The state of the industry five to eight years ago was that retail was not really doing anything interesting in technology,” said Reed. “Retail was not an area where a visionary could build a career.”

In contrast, Reed said retail is now a great industry for forward-thinking technology disruptors to focus their career.

“Retailers now have visionary technology strategies and are making the investments to support them,” said Reed. One potential obstacle still facing retailers seeking to hire talented C-level technology executives is where to find them.

“Do you need to be in retail to understand retail?” asked Reed. “That’s still a question.”

To help ensure that C-level technology hires from outside retail come in with a manageable learning curve, Reed recommends retailers search for talent in adjacent industries with a customer service mentality.

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