As the adage goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” With strong leadership tied closely to a company’s culture, many of the retail industry’s top CEOs have taken on a much larger role beyond simply leading the business. They’re responsible for creating the ideals, programs and policies that make employees proud to work for them.
At NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay sat down with three CEOs to talk about their leadership principles and perspective on building culture while leading from within.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Chairman and CEO Ed Stack led his company through a profound period of growth since taking the reins in 1984, from four stores to now over 800. He prioritizes work-life balance for employees — “family is very important to us,” he said — and encourages giving back to the community as a company, funding high school athletic programs and giving children an opportunity to play sports.
Stack made the decision to stop selling guns and ammunition at Dick’s after repeated news of school shootings last year, a move backed by the company’s board and lauded in the media. “The right decisions are never tough decisions,” Stack said. “You have to lead with your heart … and the right decisions are easy decisions.”
The “five Be’s” pave the way for Best Buy Chairman and CEO Hubert Joly’s style of leadership: Be a purposeful leader, be clear about your role, be clear of who you serve (hint: it’s the customer), be of value as a leader and be an authentic leader. “Seventy percent of the job is making things happen,” Joly said, “and we don’t do it alone.” After choosing the right person for the job, Joly gives them the space they need to flourish and creates an environment where people feel comfortable pursuing their passions: Best Buy channeled savings gained from tax reform into employee retention programs like childcare backup services provided by the company.
Levi Strauss & Co. President and CEO Chip Bergh has navigated the company through a historic transformation over the past eight years. “We’re the original authentic pair of jeans,” he says. “Everybody’s got a Levi’s story.” He says much of the company’s turnaround can be attributed to culture. “We are at our very best when we put the brand at the center of culture, while stepping forward with innovation.” Part of that turnaround was winning back young consumers, which Bergh focused on by building the brand in a way that was consistent globally but relevant locally, such as having a presence at music festivals and other localized events around the world. According to Bergh, it’s never been a more exciting time to lead in retail. “The beautiful thing about being a retailer is that you can constantly experiment, try new things and learn. Then when you latch onto a good idea, you blow it out as fast as you can.”
Read more takeaways from CEOs at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show on the official recap.