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CEO heads roll in 'annus horribilis' for retail

Retail CEO turnover reached a seven-year high in 2019, up 25% on 2018 as business battled a tough year on the high street, new research shows.

A total of 55 CEO changes occurred over the year, compared with 44 in 2018, Korn Ferry’s eighth annual UK Retail CEO Tracker report shows. The category of fashion, luxury and apparel experienced the most changes in the retail sector, in what the report called an “annus horribilis”. 

The research reveals that the industry’s response to “one of the most difficult years for the retail sector in over a decade” has been to change out the chief executive. In 38% of the changes made in the past year, the former CEO was in the seat for less than three years, and 21% of newly appointed chief executives are from a finance background. 

The number of bosses appointed from commercial or trading and merchandising backgrounds fell from 46% to 34%, and those from a retail operations background fell from 22% to 13%. In 80% of companies, the change in CEO has been driven by company performance. 

The report raises concern over female representation in the top jobs across retail. There was no material increase in the number of female CEOs appointed in 2018 compared with 2019, at 10 versus 11 respectively. The proportion of female representation at the top of the industry sits at just 23%. 



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