Nov. 11, 2015
What PE firms should look for in retail executives
E-commerce is just one of many things shaking up the consumer
goods and retail industries (resulting in retailers, like American
Apparel, going bankrupt), leaving private equity dealmakers in those
sectors desperate for good leadership teams that are able to
navigate the shifting terrain of 2015. Firms should consider a target
company’s CEO during the due diligence phase to make sure that
they either have or can readily put together the proper C-suite for
success, says Leslie Berglass, chairman of Berglass & Associates,
which has placed retail executives for clients that include private
equity firms CCMP, Good Partners, Catterton Partners and Apax.
What’s different about today’s retail climate?
We have a universe where that mid-tier retailer is finding itself in a
very quiet place – the Macy’s of the world struggle. The Internet has
given the consumer a master’s degree in shopping, which redefines
what a store has to do to attract that consumer and therefore redefines the leadership model. Today’s CEOs
are more about strategy than choosing a product or a warehouse. They mentor instead of dictate; they
provide the teams with freedom and resources. What you have is a very different model, not really that topdown
control model of previous years.
When placing retail CEOs, what should PE firms focus on?
The challenge with so much consolidation in the public sector is that CEOs of companies are now really
CEOs of brands as part of a multidivisional organization with a combined back end, referred to as shared
services. So the CEO is really a divisional CEO. But a private equity portfolio company CEO operates a
standalone business. It may be better for a $500 million PE-owned business to find a leader at a $300 million
standalone business than at a $1 billion division of a public company. Because many companies that are
bought have not yet exploited their digital business, you want a CEO who wants to increase Internet growth.
There’s a lot of fast growth if the person knows how to digitize the business. Firms should run the CEO
search process parallel to the acquisition process because that can increase the value of the business.
What other executives are important to the equation?
Chief customer officer – a title that didn’t exist a mere 10 years ago – is really a more empowered marketing
executive. The marketing people are more important than they have ever been before – they are the voice of
the consumer. Chief information officers, who used to handle mainly data, are now strategists because they
monitor the buying habits of consumers. The CEO cannot run a business on his or her own anymore; they
have to have good people around them.