Shop with care for retail execs

Recruiting senior executives for the retail industry is increasingly focused on the ability to adapt and innovate. As much or more than on candidates’ sectoral knowledge, says Mark Derbyshire, executive director and head of retail and consumer search at staffing firm Russell Reynolds Associates Canada.

Knowing retail simply isn’t enough any more, Derbyshire said. A person with all the right technical skills also has to have the management and leadership skills necessary to implement change. Historically, retailers have tended to focus on technical skills, but “today, there absolutely has to be the right balance between those three areas.”

Over the past five years, there has been a real evolution in the industry, and what is becoming a constant for retailers is “the level of change that’s taking place in their entities.”

That makes informed hiring decisions crucial to the bottom line. A bad hiring decision at a level where the average compensation is $168,000 has a negative return on investment of 565 per cent, Derbyshire said.

Increased globalization and more sophisticated consumers and marketing are transforming the way retailers approach the marketplace.

Derbyshire, who was previously a vice-president at Canadian Tire, has a PhD in organizational behaviour. As a result, the retail practice of Russell Reynolds now uses a model that identifies 40 to 50 desired competencies related to technical, management and leadership skills.

In addition to assessing whether an individual has the right mix of skills, it’s important to make sure that the person is a good fit with the organization, he added. A resume can make someone appear to be the best of the best in retail, “but the reality is that if you’re not able to fit in the organization, the organization is not going to adapt to you. It’s not going to happen.”

When a company is filling a senior vacancy, “you’re not specifically recruiting for that one role, you’re recruiting for the entire organization at a higher level,” to be successful at a particular stage in its evolution, Derbyshire said. A strategic hire should challenge a retail organization and its direction, but in such a way that the organization can accept the challenge and respond positively, he said.

Derbyshire said he’s seeing “real resistance in a lot of organizations” to bringing about change in the current unstable economy. Our advice to clients is that we need to stay focused on the further development of this business. This is an opportunity for retailers to align their business to where they need to be, going into the future.”

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