Who Will Fill Open Retail CEO Positions?

January 4, 2023

It had always been considered a great job to be the CEO of a major retail company. Right now, there are openings at several leading companies - including VF
Corp., Kohl’s, The Gap
, and The RealReal. And, there could be more opportunities to step into that role as managements review the past year’s performance.

Traditionally, many companies had training squads that attracted bright young people who would enter the organization and learn the culture of the company as they moved up the management chain. Eventually one would rise above the others and become a senior leader. There was a pool of talent that was good for the company, but often offered other companies a chance to pick up an executive candidate for their own staff as well. Times have changed. Training quads are a relic of the past.

The lack of that leadership funnel has caused a dearth of good talent; that shortage can be felt when the time comes to replace departed talent.

Here are the facts:

VF Corp. Steve Rendle retired last month with the board’s agreement. The diverse holdings of VP Corp. include The North Face, Vans, Dickies, Supreme, Timberland, JanSport, and many more. The company needs a leader who can embrace this diverse portfolio and give each brand its proper support.

Kohl’s Corp. Michelle Gass stepped down and accepted the Presidency position at Levi Strauss. It is an exciting move for Michelle, but it left Board Member Tom Kingsbury of Burlington fame to struggle with image and inventory issues and create new excitement for the company.

The Gap. Sonya Syngal left last July, and there has been no rush to replace her. Nor has there been a candidate stepping up who is willing to take on the burden of re-energizing the multichannel company. Its brands include Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy, and Athleta. The image that Mickey Drexler once created for the company, and its divisions, is long forgotten. Something new and fresh needs to replace it.

TheRealReal’s founder July Wainwright suddenly resigned last June and two interim co-CEOs are leading the company. That can work for a while, but the buck usually stops at the desk when a single CEO makes hard decisions.

What will 2023 bring? Bed Bath and Beyond is struggling and other companies are looking at their 4th quarter results with trepidations. Today there is a need for a strong, active CEO whose vision will be supported by investors, suppliers, customers, and associates alike.

POSTSCRIPT: We are in a tough retail period. Tough because customer needs are rapidly evolving at the same time the economic outlook is uncertain and there is global unrest. We need leaders whose vision will create excitement and define the character of the retailer. The new CEO must be innovative and creative; they need to have the ability to identify a compelling vision and then provide the leadership to rally their team behind them. Young people will look for innovation and something different. It will to a tough start for some of the companies.

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