How to Find the Right Talent for Retail & Distribution Leadership

The retail industry has undergone profound change in just a few short years and so has the retail executive search process. That should not come as a surprise since nearly every aspect of retail and distribution has changed: customers, suppliers, supply chains, employees, and investors. Amazon and eCommerce have upended traditional venues and keep increasing the bar on consumer expectations: free shipping? Same-day delivery? It would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Today, it’s table stakes.

What makes executive search in retail and distribution unique? Today’s retail and distribution leadership must have a broad understanding of the industry, be on the cutting edge of technology, and be able to apply innovative solutions in an increasingly competitive environment. There’s a big difference between procurement and negotiating, retail operations and distribution, and sales and marketing — today’s leaders must have an incredibly broad and deep skillset to succeed.

The Importance of Specialized Executive Search in Retail and Distribution

Because of these unique skills, talent acquisition strategies for leadership recruitment must be highly specialized to find retail and distribution executives who understand the big picture and the nuances involved at each phase of the operation.

With such complex requirements, retail and distribution firms can’t rely on a “generic” executive search. Partnering with specialized retail executive search recruiters who are immersed in the sectors is crucial. Not only do they have intimate knowledge of the talent landscape, but can evaluate based on your specific needs for your organization. This level of retail and distribution expertise streamlines the search process and produces candidates with the specific skills you need to succeed.

Challenges in Finding Top Talent in Quebec’s Retail and Distribution Sector

How does the Quebec market affect talent acquisition for leadership roles? Besides a global shortage of high-quality executive talent, Quebec also has unique challenges for a retail executive search in retail and distribution. 

There’s intense competition from major retailers that manage operations within the province, making distribution management hiring challenging as well. You cannot afford to rely on local searches. Top companies today are evaluating global executives to get broader access to the right talent. So, your talent acquisition strategies should include working with an executive search firm that has a network of national and international candidates and deep expertise in recruiting worldwide. For more junior roles, local or regional searches may be fine. For top leadership, you need to cast a much wider net.

Key Qualities to Look for in Retail and Distribution Leaders

Retail and distribution leaders have a demanding job. The World Retail Congress suggests that few of today’s retail and distribution CEOs have the needed skills. They estimate that only 40% of CEOs would even qualify if they had to reapply for their jobs. 

Many of today’s leaders gained experience at the store level and worked their way up. They built a strong foundation of sales, distribution, and customers. However, they often lack the expertise to deal with rapidly changing supply chains, AI and other technology, and a broader set of stakeholders. 

Key qualities go beyond the experience and hard skills, including:

  • Critical thinking: The pace of change requires leaders who can critically assess markets, pinpoint growth opportunities, and rapidly implement new strategies. They must apply critical thinking and act swiftly.
  • Customer centricity: Leaders must remain focused on customer insights to deliver on evolving needs and preferences.
  • Change management: Transforming any legacy organization into an agile, future-focused one requires overcoming inertia and skepticism. Leaders must motivate and inspire teams through uncertainty.
  • Collaboration: Silos are rampant in large corporations. Leaders need to foster connection and knowledge-sharing across functions, from stores to warehouses to merchandising.
  • Emotional intelligence: Retail and distribution leaders must have high emotional intelligence (EQ) to build relationships with employees, customers, and clients.
  • Communication: You cannot underestimate the importance of strong communication skills to deliver clear communication and share the vision.

Effective Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Top Executives 

What strategies are most effective for attracting top retail and distribution leaders? It helps to have an experienced leadership recruitment firm on your side. They will take the time to understand your situation and specific needs, craft a unique selling proposition (USP) to attract the right candidates, and help set the stage for negotiations.

For example, it’s crucial to offer competitive pay. An experienced executive search firm can benchmark compensation locally and globally to ensure you put together a competitive package. With deep insight into the retail and distribution industry — along with a network of industry insiders and talent pipelines — they can make sure your company is positioned properly to attract the best-qualified candidates.

Leveraging Local Insights for Recruitment in Quebec 

It’s important to work with partner search firms that understand the marketplace and retail industry trends in Quebec. For example, despite some headwinds, the Canadian retail market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 4% through 2027, so there is opportunity ahead. In the Quebec retail market, however, growth in 2023 was reported at just 1.1% — well below the national average. Incoming leaders may be looking at a significantly different trajectory than in other areas.

A local search firm with global connections will better understand the uniqueness of Quebec, including the challenges and solutions for bilingual leadership recruitment.


Your talent acquisition strategies need to adapt in the same way your organizations are continuously evolving. The retail and distribution environments of today — and tomorrow — require a focused approach to executive search. Companies should leverage a specialized retail executive search firm that will take the time to evaluate your company, provide a targeted assessment of the qualifications and skills you need, and surface top candidates for the next generation of leadership.

Article written by François Piché-Roy, CFR Global Executive Search Canada
Photo source: Pexels

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