Retail Week recently published its list of leading lights in the retail industry. Considering shopping is still viewed primarily as a female ‘sport’, it was interesting to see that the top five most powerful retailing gurus were all men.
Top of the shops is chief executive of Sainsbury’s, Justin King – an extremely vocal leader who has voiced his opinions on everything from the riots last year to the role of business in society. It would be fair to say that Mr King understands the value of good PR – indeed, not being afraid to say something controversial has helped propel him to the top of the list.
In second place is Lord Wolfson, chief executive of Next who at just 33 proves that age is no barrier to success. He’s stayed true to the company’s main objectives of giving people what they want which is good quality, affordable clothing. He’s always alert to market trends and carefully assesses how shopping is changing, ensuring the Next Directory and online shopping integrate effectively with the stores themselves.
Third is the chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, Charlie Mayfield who has retained both the integrity and identity of the brand. Although the company’s property portfolio has expanded significantly in recent years, at no point has the brand been diluted. John Lewis is the epitome of quality, value and excellent customer service, helped in no small part by good staff engagement and a partnership model which makes it easier to push change through.
In at number four is Ian Cheshire, chief executive of Kingfisher – parent company of B&Q.
Although each of these leaders have very individual skills, when you look more closely at why these retailers are so successful, it’s easy to spot some common threads. The key overriding principle behind all five is the promise of quality products at reasonable prices, backed up by good customer service and an online presence.
In terms of the people themselves, they all have a deep understanding of their audience and a clear vision for the company. They have the drive, the leadership qualities and the management capabilities to drill these down into the day-to-day operations. On top of that, they’re all great spokespeople who are always willing to talk to the press – and say something interesting.
Combine that with the ability to predict what people will want tomorrow, next week or even next year and you’ve got the magic formula that will take you all the way to the top.
* Kathy Toon is property partner at SGH Martineau