Retail CEO turnover surged in nightmare year 2019 says headhunter Korn Ferry

Last year’s extremely tough trading conditions saw 55 retail chiefs head for the door, with fashion and luxury experiencing more CEO changes than any other category. 


According to a report from Korn Ferry, the global organisational consulting firm, CEO changes in the retail industry surged by 25% in 2019, as companies’ response to the challenges was to seek out new leadership styles. This is the highest churn since 2012, when 56 retail chiefs were ousted and replaced.

The increase in turnover occurred in one of the most difficult years for the retail sector in over a decade. Wavering consumer confidence, coupled with Brexit uncertainty, a general election and rising business rates costs, combined to create an ‘annus horribilis’ for the sector.


The research reveals retailers not only opted for fresh talent, but also favoured some functional backgrounds over others. In fact, companies named fewer CEOs with commercial/sales or buying and merchandising backgrounds than in 2018. Instead, the number of retail CEOs with financial experience rose from 15% to 21%, as retailers shifted their focus towards strong financial management, debt restructuring and management of investor relations.

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