It’s been another eventful year in the retail jobs market. Ongoing turbulence on the high street has led to a raft of business closures or restructures that in turn has meant a fluid movement of senior executives in and out of some of the country’s most high profile retailers.
Debenhams and House of Fraser are perhaps the two most obvious examples of the revolving boardroom door that has characterised struggling businesses, but there are many others besides. Just this week, the chief executives of both Topshop and Ted Baker announced they are stepping down with near immediate effect as the retailers battle to stem a tide of falling sales.
Contrast this with the smooth handling of Dave Lewis’s planned departure from Tesco next summer, which was announced in October as the grocer reported a substantial rise in half-year profits, and it serves to reinforce the maxim that boardroom stability and business performance are inextricably linked.
Once again this year it has been a candidates’ jobs market. Retailers are desperate to attract the top executives that can help them plot a course through a complex, rapidly changing market. This means that people with a track record of delivering results are in a position of huge power to negotiate the most favourable package.
We’ve also seen a trend for retailers to look outside of the sector for talent; the theory being that retail is going through a transformational phase, therefore, a new set of skills – and a fresh perspective – are required to stay ahead of the curve. Dixons recently appointed senior executives from Merlin Entertainments and Dyson, while John Lewis chairman designates Sharon White’s background is as a civil servant. “These are not conventional retail times,” said outgoing chair Charlie Mayfield on announcing White’s appointment. He’s not wrong.
One common theme I have encountered when speaking with retail leaders is the impact that the political gridlock of the past year has had on people strategies. Businesses trying to plan for an uncertain future are less likely to commit to a decisive course of action which in turn slows down recruitment plans.
My hope for the New Year is that by delivering a strong majority for the Conservative Party, the election result removes some of the barriers to planning for a future outside of the EU, albeit the exact details of the UK’s future relationship are still to be agreed.
The pound surged on news of the result and the retail sector as a whole will be similarly relieved at the end of a torturous stalemate that has hit investment, productivity and growth.
There’s no denying the market is tough, but for all the negativity surrounding retail and in particular the apparent death of the high street – a state of affairs that is more nuanced than is often reported – we are blessed in the UK with a great many successful, innovative retailers led by some of the top business minds in the country.
I’d like to toast all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I shall return in January when I’m looking forward to seeing a renewed sense of purpose from businesses and all those who work in our great sector.