Retail CEO turnover at 7-year high in 2019

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Korn Ferry’s eighth annual UK Retail CEO Tracker report catalogued 55 CEO changes in retail last year, compared with 44 in 2018, a jump of 25%.


The report suggested that the 7-year high turnover in retail chief executives was due largely to 2019 being “one of the most difficult years for the retail sector in over a decade.”


This ‘annus horribilis’ for retail was driven also by waning consumer confidence, Brexit uncertainty, the distraction of a general election, as well as the persistent challenges of rental costs and business rates.


The report reveals that the majority of changes took place in the fashion, luxury and apparel categories, and that 38% of the changes made in 2019 showed the former CEO was in role for less than three years, while 21% of newly appointed chief executives came from a finance background.


Appointments of women CEOs flatlined in 2019 from 2018, with 11 newly appointed in 2019 versus 10 in 2018, out of the 47 confirmed appointments, raising concerns over female representation at board level in retail.


The proportion of women at the top of the industry currently sits at 23%. The Korn Ferry report stated that the only Retail listed company female CEO of scale is Karen Hubbard at Card Factory.


Sarah Lim, managing director & sector lead, Retail, EMEA at Korn Ferry, comments: “The past year saw a perfect storm of challenges for retail, resulting in profit warnings, a further spate of Company Voluntary Arrangements and a number of high-profile high street names going into administration. As we head into a new decade, one thing is for sure - retail will change unrecognisably over the next ten years - those who lead our industry will need to do so, too.”

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