The 2014 World Retail Congress was an outstanding event. The location didn’t hurt - few cities top Paris at the end of September. The weather was beautiful and the food was great. And the venue was appropriate… the CNIT conference center in Paris is set within a huge shopping mall. Attendees listened to sessions about converting shoppers, and then had an opportunity to immediately put into practice what they learned!
But the WRC wasn’t just about food and shopping. It was an excellent opportunity to learn from the top minds in the industry. Panel discussions covered topics from innovation in fashion to M&A to marketing to Millennials.
A constant theme this year was the decline of store traffic and the rise of e-commerce. An excellent presentation by Deloitte covered the state of each of the major world economies as it relates to the retail industry. While China is “slowing” to 7% GDP growth from its recent tear in the double-digits, many economies are struggling. Overall the US is not looking too badly compared to many of the European countries.
At the WRC, I had the distinct honor of inducting Mike Ullman, CEO of JC Penney, into the World Retail Hall of Fame during a special luncheon ceremony. Mike has had an amazing career which included an appointment as a White House Fellow by President Ronald Reagan. Mike said “I went from the White House to the warehouse” when describing his move into the retail industry.
Mike Ullman’s philosophy is one of “servant leadership” where he looks to develop those around him. He has been CEO of world-class companies including LVMH Moet Hennessy in Paris, R.H. Macy & Co. and JC Penney in the U.S. and Wharf Holdings in Hong Kong. Somehow he also has found time to be a board director of companies such as Ralph Lauren, Taubman Centers, Federated Department Stores (Macy’s) and Segway, LLC. And he has been the lead director of the board of Starbuck’s for the last 12 years.
As most of you know, Mike’s career has come full circle as for the last 18 months he has been back at the helm of J.C.Penney where he previously served as CEO from 2004 to 2012. Mike humbly accepted the award amidst applause from a roomful of the top leaders in the retail industry.
Another highlight of the WRC was the Retail Leaders program – a competition among the top fashion and merchandising schools around the world. First Insight sponsored the team from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Each team was assigned the same project, and this year Samsung challenged the students to develop a concept for a new Samsung “Life Store”. The team from FIT did a great job, and their efforts were rewarded with the top prize for the second year in a row!
The World Retail Congress was an excellent opportunity to interact with a number of our retail customers – to rekindle existing relationships and form new ones. We look forward to seeing many of you again next year in Milan!