Just 18 new retail CEOs hired in 2021, the lowest level in a decade

Just 18 retail CEOs were appointed in 2021
Just 18 retail CEOs were appointed in 2021
// Just 18 new retail bosses were hired in 2021, which is dramatically below the 33 appointed in 2020
//A new generation of retail leader emerged over the year with 11 of the 18 hires first-time CEOs

The number of retail CEOs hired in the UK fell to its lowest level in 10 years last year, according to research from headhunter Korn Ferry.

Just 18 chief executives were appointed to lead UK retailers with revenues more than £50 million in 2021. This compares to the 33 CEO appointments in 2020, which until last year’s figures emerged had been a historical low.

Despite the incredibly low retail chief executive turnover last year, there was a significant shift in the latter half of 2021 with a “dramatic increase” in CEO recruitment.

Korn Ferry managing director of retail board and CEO services Sarah Lim expected to see a jump in appointments this year. 

“Many of the organisations that commenced new CEO searches in the latter part of last year have yet to announce these new CEOs, so we expect to see an increase in the number of CEOs appointed in 2022,” she said.

A new generation of leaders got the big retail jobs over the course of 2021. The bulk of the appointments – 11 of the 18 – were first-time CEOs and nine were internally promoted. Of those that were existing CEOs, more than a third (38%) had only been in-post for three years or fewer.

Lim highlighted the short tenure of many of the departing CEOs: “Whilst in some cases this was a result of planned succession or internal promotion, for several others this was indicative of business distress, board dissent or dissatisfaction with leadership.”


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Diversity was lacking when it came to new hires with just two ethnic minority CEOs appointed last year, the same as in 2020, and four female bosses, half the number of last year.

“We know that organisations with diverse leadership perform at a higher rate than those that do not,” said Lim. “It’s critical that boards work to bring more diverse candidates into the recruiting mix.”

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