Searching for Saviors: Can Retailers Truly Find The Perfect Chief Exec?

NEW YORK — Allen Questrom’s charisma, Millard Drexler’s merchandising skills, Leslie Wexner’s thoughtfulness and Rose Marie...

Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies, Kurt Salmon Associates, believes the recent turnover in the executive suite reflects the pressures and "impatience" of Wall Street, but also "a shortsightedness that will come around and bite you. Unless the person has been patently a nonperformer, I believe in the long run, executives who have sound business plans and are able to execute within the organization have got to be given appropriate time."

According to Elaine Hughes of E.A. Hughes & Co. executive search, problem-solving skills are critical. "But there are various retail models, the vertical model, the department store model, the mass merchant model. You can be a good problem solver at one model, but not necessarily at another. The model is flawed at Ann Taylor. It’s a specialty store model with a brand that lacks a definite point of view." With Kim Roy getting axed from the Ann Taylor Stores division last month, "they need somebody with a vision of what that brand should be."

Another problem today is simply the small pool of talent. Years ago, executives gradually worked their way up the ranks of such stores as Macy’s or Abraham & Straus and, perhaps, one day became ceo. Today, though, some ceo’s are reluctant to promote people to ensure they get all the plaudits. The result is not enough delegation and a ceo spread too thin to handle the complex business. "How many people have the ability to hire someone who is smarter than themselves, or who really wants to hire very smart people?" one source said.

"It’s not a matter of just being a great merchant," added Bill Maher of Maher/Kanal Associates search firm. "Retailers today must put together a vision of what the business should be and be able to execute that plan. That’s a tough road to hold. Few retailers out there today really have vision, are great leaders and motivators."

So the search for the magician goes on.
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