Move Over, Merchant Princes!

Last week’s announcement that former Avaya exec Jim D’Ambrosio would take the reins at Sears had many industry pundits decrying him as a smart but inadequate interloper rather than the merchant prince that Sears needs. However, I wasn’t disappointed at all by the choice (see Carol’s comments on Forbes.com) – Sears is transforming its organization to fit the future of retail rather than caving to current norms.

Mr. D’Ambrosio is credited with sweeping out an entrenched culture at Avaya that was slow moving and full of legacy management. Under his leadership, the telecom giant transformed into a competitive, profitable game changer in the network and communications industry. Why, then, is it such a surprise that Sears’ Chairman, Eddie Lampert, would tap him to do the same at Sears?

The plucking of Apple marketing exec, Rebecca Van Dyck, as the new global CMO at Levi’s marked a similarly contrarian move. As tempting as it is to let out a collective “duh” based on her success marketing the iPhone and iPad and her prior success at Wieden+Kennedy as the architect of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, it’s Van Dyck’s digital DNA that the President of Levi’s Global Brand, Robert Hanson, is anxious to glom onto.

Levi’s isn’t necessarily bringing in their new CMO to re-architect their brand or Apple-ize it; they know that their future is absolutely dependent on delivering connections and customer experience using digital platforms—and she has the pedigree to make it happen.

Although considered faddish by some, the adoption rate and response to QR codes is on the rise—and women between the ages of 35-44, are responsible for more than 60 percent of scans. This is only one technology that is transforming how we shop, but it is also a terrific example of how mobile technology builds connections with coveted retail demos. Retail and personal technology are now inextricably linked and the time has come for more retail organizations to reflect that shift in their higher ranks.

I predict that future retail monarchs will likely not ascend from traditional merchant lineage, or even from CPG star cultures, but rather from the misty realms of social media, mobile applications, and communication. The retail kingdom will be better for it.