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Top 10 Most Powerful Women in Retail

Retail Week has recently picked out 10 of the most powerful women in global retail.  So what makes them successful, and what can be learned from their successes?   And do you agree with the shortlist?

Here are their Top 10:


 

Angela Ahrendts, Senior VP of Retail and Online stores, Apple

As the SVP of retail strategy at Apple, Angela Ahrendts is one of the highest-ranking executives at the most valuable company in the world.

No. Stores: 500

Annual sales: $230bn

CV:  She served as Chief Executive Officer at Burberry and led the company through a period of outstanding global growth.  Prior to Burberry, she was Executive Vice President at Liz Claiborne Inc., and earlier in her career served as President of Donna Karan International.

Style:  At Burberry Ahrendts strived to build what she dubs a “connected culture”, not least by interacting directly with employees through dedicated instant messaging channel Burberry Chat.  She also brought in an anthropologist to study the company culture she helped create, so as to better understand and preserve it.


Barbara Rentler, Chief Executive, Ross Stores

Rentler has helped turn Ross Stores into one of the US’ largest retailers.  Since she took the reins they have notched up record sales and profits each year and shareholder value has soared. In its most recent financial year, sales surged a mighty 10%.

No. stores:  1,100

Annual sales: $14.1bn

CV:  Rentler has been at the off-price retailer – a rival to TJX’s TK Maxx – since 1986.  A merchandiser by trade, she has climbed up the ladder for the past 30 years and was appointed chief executive in 2014.

Style:  Little is known about the press-averse Rentler, who prefers to let the numbers do the talking.


 

Carol Meyrowitz, Executive Chairman of TJX

Meyrowitz leads a business in discount retail, one of the hottest and competitive markets in retail, stretching from the US to eastern Europe.  It includes the UK where they trade through the TK Maxx and Homesense chains.

No. stores:  3,800

Annual sales: $33bn

CV:  She has been with the business since 1983 and became a director in 2006, rising to become chief executive – a position she was promoted from three years ago.

Style:  She puts people, and their learning and development, at the center of her management style in order to attract, retain and promote talented staff.


Helena Foulkes, Chief Executive, Hudson’s Bay Company

Foulkes has acted as Chief Executive of US department store Saks Fifth Avenue’s parent company Hudson’s Bay Company since February 2018 and is ranked among the most influential women in business by Fortune magazine.

No. stores:  480

Annual sales: $5.2bn

CV:  Foulkes made a name for herself in the world of US health and beauty through a 25-year stint at pharmacy giant CVS Pharmacy.  She became VP of CVS Health, and President of CVS Marketing before leaving for her first chief executive role this year.


Judith McKenna, President and CEO, Walmart International

McKenna is the most senior woman in UK food retail, who heads up Walmart for all their operations outside of the US, which includes 28 countries including the UK, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and China.  The role is often seen as the stepping stone to take the top job at the US retail giant, with current boss Doug McMillon and his predecessor Mike Duke both running the international division before their ascent.

No. stores: 6,300

Annual sales: $39bn

CV:  Served as Asda’s CFO for more than 10 years before being promoted to COO.  Then she became Executive VP of Strategy and Development for Walmart International before becoming President and CEO of Walmart International in 2018.

Style:  A long‐time champion of diversity and inclusion, Judith has chaired Walmart’s council which is responsible for the company’s global women’s strategy. She’s also a passionate advocate for lifelong learning, driving initiatives that help create the company’s workforce of the future.


Laura Alber, CEO of Williams-Sonoma

Alber has worked her way up the US-based furniture group.  As well as driving the next phase of its international expansion and its digital progression, she has been very vocal about the need for all businesses to hire more women.

No. stores:  612

Annual sales: $4.4bn

CV:  She joined Williams-Sonoma in 1995 as a senior buyer in the Pottery Barn subsidiary brand and moved to the newly created role of president of Williams-Sonoma in 2006.

Style:  Refreshingly candid, Alber has a no-nonsense attitude to management.


Maggie Wu, CFO, Alibaba

Wu was responsible for instituting Alibaba.com’s financial systems and organization, leading up to its initial public offering in 2007, as well as co-leading the privatisation of Alibaba.com in 2012.

Annual sales: $39bn

CV:  She worked at KPMG in Beijing as a Partner in audit practice for fifteen years before joining Alibaba in 2007 as Executive Director.  She’s been the tech and multichannel retail giant’s CFO since 2013 and presides over a vast empire, spanning commercial operation to cloud computing, by way of online marketplaces and multi-channel initiatives.

Style:  Alibaba is pioneering new models that combine the best of digital innovation with bricks-and-mortar stores.  In her key position, Wu is not only one of the one of the most powerful women in retail, but one of the most powerful people in finance in the world.


Mary Dillon, Chief Executive, Ulta Beauty

Marketing veteran Dillon has taken a struggling brand and turned it into a beauty powerhouse – Ulta has overtaken Sephora to become the US’ biggest beauty brand.  Their stock has soared by 250% under Dillon and with a market capitalisation of $15bn, it now towers over retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s and Nordstrom.

No. stores: 975

Annual sales:  $4.9bn

CV:  In 2005 she joined McDonalds as Global Chief Marketing Officer and Executive VP and then was CEO and President of U.S. Cellular from 2010 to 2013.  She joined Ulta in 2013.

Style:  Howard Schultz, chief executive of Starbucks, says of Dillon – who is also on the board of the coffee chain – that “she understands the theater and the romance”.


Dame Natalie Massenet, Co-Chair, Farfetch

Massenet set up Net-a-Porter in 2000 from her flat in Chelsea.  A.t that time, it was so low-key that its trademark black delivery boxes were stacked in the bath.  In 2010 she sold the business for an estimated £50m and in 2017 she joined Farfetch.

Annual sales:  £167m

CV:  In 2017, Massenet joined the board of competitor Farfetch, taking on the role of Co-Chair, to work closely alongside founder and boss José Neves.

Style:  Aside from her high-profile roles in business, Massenet is chairman of the British Fashion Council, a role which she took over in 2013. In 2009, she was awarded an MBE and in 2016 she was made a Dame.


Véronique Laury, Chief Executive, Kingfisher

Laury has taken the DIY group by the horns!  Her ‘One Kingfisher’ transformation plan – crafted over many years’ working in the home improvement sector – is aimed at dragging the B&Q and Screwfix-owner into the 21st century.

No. stores: 1,100

Annual sales: £11.2bn

CV:  After spending 15 years at Leroy Martin in France, she worked at Castorama, a subsidiary of Kingfisher, for eleven years.  She has also had roles at B&Q before joining Kingfisher as CEO in 2015.

Style:  She emphasizes the importance of disrupting your own business before a fresh-faced start-up beats you to it.  Admiring of firms like Zara, Pret and Ikea, she’s unafraid to take the bold but necessary actions that will enable the business to battle today’s challenging climes.

Bryony Graham
the authorBryony Graham

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