Korn Ferry Recruits CEO for Pier 1

April 7, 2017 – Korn Ferry has recruited former Kmart executive Alasdair James as president and chief executive officer of home furnishings retail company Pier 1 Imports. Past CEO Alex Smith left the company at the end of the year.

Mr. James was most recently with Sears Holdings Corporation, where he served since 2014 as president of Kmart. During his tenure, he transformed the business into a consumer-focused, digitally-enabled and omni-channel-driven retailer, resulting in substantial growth in digital sales and average customer ticket.

Mr. James spent his early career in international marketing and account management in positions of increasing responsibility across the globe, first at PepsiCo and then at GlaxoSmithKline PLC, culminating with the position of global marketing director for Future Brands. In 2007, he joined Tesco PLC, one of the world’s largest retailers, where he held several senior executive roles during a period of constant innovation, transformation and reinvention at the company. During his tenure there, Mr. James served as commercial director of its global business unit, as well as executive vice president and commercial director of Tesco China.

The Kmart veteran inherits a company that reported a 3.4 percent decline in net sales in its preliminary fiscal year 2017 results. Pier 1’s stock has also been punished as the company struggles to grow sales and profit. However, as of Monday’s closing price of $7.10, shares are trading up nearly eight percent over the past 12 months.

According to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. James will receive an annual base salary of $1 million as Pier 1’s CEO. “In our search for a new leader to navigate Pier 1 Imports through this challenging and exciting retail environment, our board sought an innovative, customer-centric and proven leader with a visionary perspective,” said Terry E. London, chairman of the board of Pier 1 Imports. “Alasdair comes to us with the strong, consumer-focused background, track record of success and strategic capability we were seeking.”

With more than 15 years of retail and consumer goods experience in the U.S., U.K. and China, Mr. James has the expertise and global operating skills necessary to drive long-term success for the Pier 1 brand, said Mr. London. “He is a proven leader in the consumer space, broadly-skilled in sales, marketing, brand management and data analytics, with a track record of implementing consumer-facing initiatives to transform businesses in tough environments while driving operational improvement.” Mr. London said the company “undertook the kind of thorough and thoughtful search process that our shareholders, customers, business partners and employees deserve.”

Founded in 1962, Pier 1 Imports is a Fort Worth, TX–based retailer specializing in imported home furnishings and decor, particularly furniture, table-top items, decorative accessories, and seasonal decor. It has locations in all 50 states and Canada as well as a flourishing e-commerce website.

Retail Sector Facing Major Shifts 

Korn Ferry says retailers are facing major shifts in their businesses that call for ‘unprecedented responses’ by CEOs who can effectively lead through change, intuitively and analytically understand the evolving consumer, and respond to ambiguity. According to the firm, developed markets, excess retail capacity, rising prices, the shift to omni-channel retail, and the unpredictable pace of change in consumer shopping habits all affect the type of leader retailers need.

Korn Ferry’s retail sector focuses on helping companies attract, develop, and retain executive and C-suite leaders. The firm offers a full suite of solutions designed to address retail talent needs — C-suite, executive, and non-executive search; competency-based assessments; leadership development programs; one-on-one coaching; strategic talent design; and succession planning. Its sector coverage includes fashion (wholesale and retail); general merchandise; luxury goods; specialty retail; e-commerce and direct-to-consumer; department stores; and grocery/drug stores.

According to retail-focused executive recruiter Herbert Mines, 31 percent of incoming retail CEOs are focused on international expansion as a key strategic priority, making that global mindset a competitive differentiator when searching for new leaders.

Interestingly, retail CEO turnover is accelerating. According to Herbert Mines, 47 percent of public retail companies with revenues exceeding $1 billion experienced a chief executive change the past five years (up from 34 percent during the previous three years). Since 2007, 71 percent of retail companies have experienced a switch in CEO.

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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