Asos’s decision to hire its first chief growth officer has sparked debate about what the job entails and why the business needs one now.
But setting aside the role descriptor for a moment, it’s worth looking at the profile of the man himself to help understand the skillset Asos is looking to acquire.
Robert Birge describes himself as a marketing and strategy advisor and what immediately jumps out from his CV is his wealth of experience in brand strategy and ecommerce.
In his early career, Birge worked on iconic US beer brands Molson and Miller Lite as well as consulting for a range of other consumer packaged goods companies.
More recently, he has gravitated towards working for disruptive ecommerce and tech start-ups including business travel app Lola, discount prescription app Blink Health, and travel search platform Kayak whereas chief marketing officer he oversaw a period of rapid growth culminating in its sale for over $2bn.
It is this experience advising fast-growing industry disrupters that I imagine held particular appeal for Asos. Having burst onto the scene with a disruptive proposition of its own, Asos has gradually seen its first-mover advantage eroded by rival online fashion brands such as Boohoo.
A period of heavy operational investment to build scale in the EU and US hasn’t gone smoothly with Asos admitting it underestimated the impacts of large scale change being executed on two continents simultaneously. As a consequence, it concedes to having lost focus on its core competencies of product, presentation and customer engagement.
Birge’s remit will be to lead a recovery in these areas by integrating the company’s marketing efforts with strategic planning, analytics and customer experience in a way that drives profitable growth.
On paper at least, his skillset is nicely aligned with these competencies while his lack of direct retail experience may be viewed as a positive by a business in need of a fresh perspective.
The reset of the leadership team doesn’t end with Birge. Asos has shortlisted candidates for a number of other executive positions, including a chief strategy officer, chief people officer and chief commercial officer with the aim of creating senior-level end-to-end ownership of its product and customer below the CEO for the first time.
Birge will head up a team of almost 1,400 employees spanning marketing and customer care functions – a responsibility that seems unlikely to faze him. An alumnus of some of America’s most esteemed educational establishments including Dartmouth College, Northwestern University and Yale, one former colleague describes Birge as “ferociously intelligent” but also “funny, brazen, fearless and indefatigable”.
All of those qualities will be required in spades to help get Asos back on the front foot after a difficult period.