A major new survey of 100 of the most senior global executives in the retail industry has found that a third of UK retail CEOs are “not fit for purpose”.

The ‘DNA of the Future Retail CEO’ report, published by the World Retail Congress and Green Park, has found that current leaders are ill-equipped to deal with the pace of change required in the industry, lagging behind with digital and data driven skills.

Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Debenhams and former B&Q boss commented that, “it is clear from the research that in the eyes of our global panel, many incumbent chief executives simply don’t match up to their job description”.

With a clear skills deficit in the digital area, the lack of online mastery drives the question of the willingness of today’s CEOs to adapt. As a major concern for the sector with both BHS and Austin Reed both recently announcing their administration, the problem is across the board as the report reveals that almost athird of chief executives at the UK’s retailers have gained their expertise through store operations.

A perfect example of this is Steve Rowe, who only a few weeks ago was promoted to one of the most high profile roles in the country as chief executive of Marks & Spencer. Mr Rowe had begun his career as a shelf stacker at the company nearly 30 years ago; starting from the shop floor is nothing new, as internal hiring has always remained popular within the retail sector with a staggering 66% of current CEOs with no experience of working outside the retail sector. Whilst this was once praised as a sign of having a good understanding of the company’s day-to- day operations, the lack of fresh ideas is a concern for the evolution of retail.

37% of current CEOs interviewed said that the UK’s current pool of retail chief executives were not fit for purpose at a technical level, with 29% of the panel agreeing that they were not fit for purpose on personality traits either.

“Out of 10, only about four retail CEOs would qualify if they had to re-apply for their jobs”, commented Bijou Kurien, former president of Lifestyle at Reliance Retail.

Moving forward the report also identified 58 aspiring CEOs with a shift in experience and skills that will set the standards for the future. With store experience falling and digital experience increasing, the new generation will become change agents for their businesses.

“There is a generational change taking place among retail CEOS. It’s become vital for them to have grown up with technology and appreciate what it can do”, comments Peter Williams, Chairman of boohoo.com.

As we have clearly seen, the retail sector is changing at an unprecedented pace, so it will be interesting to see how the findings from this report are adopted by the industry.

To read the full report visit FutureRetailCEO.com.

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