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Retail’s New Omnichannel Boss

Lauren Bitar
Lauren Bitar
Senior Manager, Retail Consulting

Today’s new shopping journeys are driving a new omnichannel reality, and while the role of the retail CEO has changed already, success demands that it must evolve further and faster.

At RetailNext, we’re publishing a series of posts on what constitutes retail success, and how the industry should best measure it, starting from the C-Suite and moving across the functions, and down (or up, depending on your point of view) the organizational chart.

It got me thinking about how the role of the retail CEO has changed, and how it will have to evolve even more rapidly to keep up with the changes driven by shoppers and their collective omnichannel behaviors. So, with a peek into the future, what will retail CEOs look like (other than looking astoundingly like me, of course)? Please allow me to introduce you to the Swiss Army Knife and Delta Force CEOs.

Swiss Army Knife CEO

The Swiss Army Knife CEO (SAKC) will have to be good at … well, everything.

Swiss Army Knife

In the quest to become truly omnichannel, breaking down the silos between online and brick-and-mortar – and all the functional areas in between – will be crucial. In order to do this, the SAKC will have to have knowledge of and drive marketing and digital strategies, supply chain, merchandising, product, customer experience and the list goes on … and on … and on. How can one launch an omnichannel store experience without understanding how buy online, pick up in-store (aka, BOPUS or ‘click and collect’) will affect it? How can one drive a digital campaign if Marketing is pushing one idea while Merchandising is buying into another? Who brings it all together?

In addition to functional area knowledge, the SAKC will need to be able to effectively communicate and motivate a generationally diverse workforce and organization culture. Millennials are now a relevant portion of the workforce, integrating with still strong numbers of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Speaking as a millennial (albeit the early part of them), we are … a bit different. We’re “digital natives” who actively consume content digitally and tend to prefer less formal communication. And, bless your little heart if you communicate through a newsletter: we hate paper and printouts. So, add communicator to the growing list of needed expertise.

Motivating employees has always been a hot spot and it’s a bit of an oversimplification to divide motivation by generation, as it varies individually – but, stay with me here. Millennials tend to have their own timeline and don’t have the patience to “do their time” to get promoted like previous generations. After all, getting an MBA should be the equivalent of a Warp Whistle in Super Mario Bros. 3 – don’t I get to skip 5 levels? Tomorrow’s retail CEO needs to understand how to balance motivation with catering to an entitled generation who sometimes wants a medal and a tickertape parade just for showing up. So, I’m adding management psychologist to the list.

With motivating comes leading by example. I once sat in a town hall meeting early in my career and listened to the CEO tell me his travels around the world to visit companies who were the best at what they did in an attempt to transfer those best practices to our organization. As I listened to him tell me how he visited the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello while I couldn’t get approved to visit a vendor, I just thought XXXXX [censored — Ed.].

Ferrari Front Gate

If the walls across functions are to come down, so does the Ivory Tower, with the SAKC joining the ranks as one of the people. Add Caesar.

This is a hefty list. I debated between choosing Swiss Army Knife CEO or divine being, because I’m not sure if a jack-of-all-trades will be good enough. One could argue that if the CEO recruits the best in every function, it will alleviate the need to know everything. I argue right back that it alleviates the need to be an expert, but there needs to be a foundational knowledge base to understand whether 1) the CTO’s, CMO’s etc. plans all fit with one brand vision, and 2) it all makes sense.

Delta Force CEO

Because I have yet to meet the SAKC who possesses every skill, the other trend I see emerging is the temporary hiring of a CEO who is very good at a particular area. Just like a Delta Force team who comes in to complete a very specific mission and then disappear back into the shadows, this Delta Force CEO (DFC) will come in to affect a specific area. There might be the critical mission to revamp the network strategy and implement Distributed Order Management (DOM) and Ship from Store (SFS), or a mission to blow up Marketing and give the brand a facelift. Maybe the product strategy needs to be turned around. Regardless, when the mission is accomplished, the DF either takes another role in that functional area or goes on to the next company calling her/his name.

Hughes Little Bird

This actually isn’t that new, as the industry has seen instances of “turnaround” CEOs like Allen Questrom, who basically made it a career to pull troubled companies out of the red and then move on once successful. The DFC would be the next incarnation. The real challenge of uniting all areas doesn’t go away; the DFC would just rally the company temporarily around one common cause, and that often prove extremely motivating and empowering.

In conclusion, I’m not sure which of these schools of thought will win outright, but I’m inclined to think both will succeed to a certain extent. The SAKC will be more rare as there will just be less people with this kind of skillset (for now), and I think we will see the DFC emerge particularly in situations around network strategy and marketing.

How do we know which one is more successful and how do we measure success? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments, below, or on Twitter (@Lauren_isRockin). Starting with the CEO of Ferrari – can I come visit?

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