Has it gotten harder to find a top notch retail CEO?

Jan 26, 2023

Retail C-suites have seen a lot of turnover in the last few years, and at least one recent case shows that the CEO role is harder to fill than it once was.

Shortly after former Stitch Fix CEO Elizabeth Spaulding stepped down in January, venture capitalist and Stitch Fix board member Bill Gurley put out a tweet seeking someone to fill the role, Business Insider reported. Mr. Gurley himself referred to the step as “unconventional” in the tweet.

A number of other major retailers have lost CEOs in the past year and at least some of them have been unable to find full-time replacements. The article points to a few factors that may be making it harder to get a CEO on board.

One is the current absence of the sort of management training that once prepared superstar CEOs in retail’s earlier generations to climb the ranks.

Another relates to the many new demands retail C-suites now face, with the industry facing disparate issues like rapid changes in technology and a resurgence in labor demands and activism.

In the case of Stitch Fix, the startup’s founder Katrina Lake was brought back in as interim CEO to replace Ms. Spaulding for either six months or until the company found a full replacement, according to a press release.

More established retailers have similarly brought back familiar faces to temporarily helm the C-suite.

Starbucks, most notably, brought CEO and founder Howard Schultz back to the role in 2022 after his departure in 2017, CNBC reported at the time. Mr. Schultz’s return represented his third time coming back to the CEO position. He has no plans to return for a fourth stint after Laxman Narasimhan, current Reckitt CEO, takes the helm in April.

Starbucks, in the meantime, is having additional executive problems with an ongoing exodus of upper-level leaders, Fortune reports.

AND study from Challenger, Gray & Christmas from December 2022 found that CEO exits were slightly down year-over-year in November, but were up from October 2022. The consultancy anticipated another wave of CEO changes in 2023.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see a broader problem of getting qualified people to take on retail CEO roles or is this limited to specific companies? What skills and qualities does it take to be an exceptional retail CEO in the present moment?


“Today’s retail CEOs need to be as good at learning as they are at leading.”


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