Future Retail leadership – Skills required to succeed

11th November 2019
Alka Gandhi
Associate Partner

Much has been commented on about the role and skills required by future CEOs, but what does the pace of digital and technical transformation, along with the changing landscape of retail mean for emerging c-suite leaders. Alka Gandhi, head of Berwick Partners’ Retail and Leisure practice, shares her views.

The dynamic retail landscape has clearly bought huge challenges to businesses whilst also having a major impact on talent acquisition strategies. Organisations are having to react and redesign their people structures to incorporate a new set of skills. Add in continuous economic and political uncertainty, and you have a complex commercial retail environment in which future leaders must find a path to succeed.

To date, many leaders have taken a classical route through traditional functions such as retail operations, trading and finance. However, the dynamics of the boardroom have changed and will continue to do so. Over the last five years, we have seen the rise of roles such as Chief Digital Officer, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Data officer taking seats at the top table.

There is no doubt that the world of retail will continue to evolve, pushed along by the pace of change in technology and the lifestyle changes of consumers. So, in a world where ‘uncertainty is the new norm’, what should future leaders consider building into their skillset.


Learning to build a framework of strategies that allow you to manage challenges and pressures that will undoubtedly arise. Build a network internally and externally on which to draw different perspectives and solutions; recognise that it is ok not to have all the answers.

Strong influencing skills

Being able to engage and influence beyond your core functional area of expertise. The ability to discuss issues in the boardroom from a broader commercial perspective.

Leadership judgement and emotional intelligence

Balancing analytical information with knowledge and intuition. Develop a broad level of experiences which will then provide a strong understanding of the commercial impact of individual decision making across the end to end business.


Be willing to continuously develop yourself – this is very important in a world which is changing so fast and requires adaptability. Fast forward 5 years and there may be a set of skills that don’t exist today – so be prepared to learn and look beyond retail to other sectors for ideas.

Courage & adaptability

Be willing to take a risk and try something different. Many legacy businesses have been slow to encourage this and, in some cases, the result has been a ‘fear of failure’ culture. Future leaders should be comfortable with trying new concepts, business models and fostering a culture that encourages this – it’s ok to take a risk.

Effective communication

It is necessary for the new generation of retail leaders to be able to communicate effectively, both internally and externally. Employees must understand the company vision and, more importantly, buy into it. Tomorrow’s workforce will not follow you just because hold a job title. Future leaders must develop an open and transparent style ensuring all members of their team are ‘taken along on the journey’. Listen to your people – they often have the answers.

Care about people

Respect their wellbeing, career and personal lives.

Be authentic

Leaders are not robots… be willing to share your learnings and journey!

Being a functional expert is not enough, future leaders require a broader set of skills and deeper commercial understanding to meet both the complex challenges and opportunities that arise within retail if they are to succeed.

For more information, please contact Alka Gandhi, Head of the Retail & Leisure practice across our offices in Manchester, London and Birmingham. She specialises in leadership appointments partnering with businesses led by transformation, turnaround or investment growth strategies. Her clients include blue-chip, family owned, private equity and SME’s.Her functional experience extends across commercial, marketing, e- commerce, B&M and operations.