Ward Howell Adds Retail & Lifestyle Practice Group Partner

April 13, 2017 – Executive search firm Ward Howell International has named Sonia Prais as a partner in the firm’s retail, beauty & lifestyle practice group. Based in Orange County, she will be working out of Ward Howell’s California and New York offices.

Ms. Prais brings 20 years of experience in executive search, having worked in the U.S. and across Europe and Asia with clients including Saks Fifth Avenue, Ralph Lauren, Vera Bradley, Topshop and Madura Garments. She has specific expertise in relocating candidates globally for clients, often to challenging geographical markets.

Prior to joining Ward Howell, Ms. Prais served as president of Claridge Search & Consulting, building it to a global scale and working with a diverse group of retailers, department stores, luxury and mass brands, pure-play and start-up ecommerce fashion websites. She has worked with clients across several functions and levels within their businesses, consulting them on internal organizational structure, succession planning, and global relocation of ‘best-in-class’ talent.

“We are delighted to welcome Sonia as a partner to the Ward Howell team,” said Asad Haider, president Americas and a member of the global board at Ward Howell. “Sonia’s strong retail background is an asset to the firm, and we are confident our clients will be very pleased with the added perspective and knowledge that Sonia brings to Ward Howell.”

With a Bow to the Past, Now Looking Forward

Search firms have come and gone over the years, but one that returned on the scene in the U.S. last spring was a welcome surprise: Ward Howell International. To many in the headhunting sector, the name Ward Howell conjures up a bow to the past. It was a well-recognized, pioneering recruitment brand that all but disappeared in the late 1990s. But it wasn’t long before several enterprising global search partners joined together and formed an international search firm platform that ultimately rebranded under the old Ward Howell name ….. Here’s some further reading from Hunt Scanlon Media.

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Retail Sector Challenges for 2017

Global retail is challenging, and rapidly evolving and changing, said Ms. Prais. Millennials and their older peers are all seeking faster and more immediate gratification due to the swift rise in social media in recent years. As consumers, that has led them to expect an optimum user experience and outstanding customer service, all of which heaps pressure onto the sector.

According to recruiters, demand for proven retail executives remains high and change agents are some of the most highly sought after C-suite leaders in the space. Winning retailers, said Ms. Prais, will continue to look broader and further outside the traditional retail targets to introduce dynamic, innovative strategic thinkers into their businesses.

Ms. Prais recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss retail sector trends, talent requirements and her new role.


Sonia, how have your past positions prepared you for this new role with Ward Howell?

I founded Claridge Consulting almost 20 years ago and built the practice globally and organically over two decades. I have been fortunate to work with a diverse group of very interesting clients across functions in the retail, beauty and lifestyle space with an expertise in relocating candidates often to challenging geographical locations. Ward Howell will afford me great support and leverage both domestically within the U.S. and globally with it’s deep and broad global network and impressive roster of global partners. I am very excited to begin this new journey.

Tell us about your focus.

I will focus on building deeper and even more holistic relationships with my current clients, and together with my new partners I will forge relationships with new retail conglomerates who are doing exciting work.

“Retail clients are hiring for ecommerce, mobile development and roles that enhance customer experience and enjoyment. That’s where we see big opportunities ahead for talent.”

Can you share with us some clients you’ve worked with and some positions you’ve recruited for during your career? 

I have worked with some of the most exciting brands, department stores, pure-play ecommerce start-ups, and turnarounds over the last two decades, including mytheresa.com, Karstadt, Esprit, Diesel, modaoperandi.com, Best Buy, Uniqlo, The Lane Crawford Joyce Group to name but a few.

What’s going on in the retail sector vis-a-vis hiring and talent needs?

Retail is challenging right now, however those who move nimbly, truly listen to their customers, learn how to respond on a ‘real-time’ basis to their needs, give outstanding customer service, and truly offer a highly efficient and workable Omni channel experience that entertains their customers will prevail and thrive. Ecommerce has delivered and will continue to deliver as promised, and stores that have over-saturated with ‘bricks and mortar’ will adjust. Customers still want to visit actual stores but that option must be offered in conjunction with the most up-to-date technology whether in the store, on a mobile device, in an office, or at home – the retailers who will win and thrive will be those who can truly offer a seamless shopping experience. Clients are hiring for ecommerce, mobile development and roles that enhance customer experience and enjoyment. That’s where we see big opportunities ahead for talent.

Which positions are currently most in demand?

Anything to with ecommerce and customer experience. But there is a dearth of great talent with this expertise and this shortage will continue until enough training and time elapses to bring enough talent into the market to fill these roles.

Can you share any searches you’re currently working on?

The CFO for an iconic, heritage women’s lifestyle accessories brand as well as the head of U.S. ecommerce for a prestige, luxury European cosmetics brand aggressively expanding within the U.S. In addition, I’ve just been asked to recruit a head of creative and visual merchandising for an Indian retail conglomerate, based in Bangalore. I’m busy!

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

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