Digital re-envisioned

There have been large scale changes in how businesses approach digital hiring. More frequently they are looking for senior talent to lead and influence their digital strategy. However it is a struggle to find those with both the experience in leadership and a strong knowledge of the capabilities of technology. Norman Broadbent’s Board Practice consultants have appointed over 1,000 Chairmen, Chief Executives, functional board directors and Non-Executive Directors for clients of all sizes across all sectors. Their success derives not from a single perspective, but from applying the breadth of their expertise and taking a holistic approach to every challenge. Norman Broadbent’s consultants discuss how the changing landscape is effecting the requirements of Chief Information and Chief Digital Officers.

Adam Turner

Adam joined in January 2011 to lead the Private Equity, TMT and CIO Centres of Excellence. His broad experience encompasses many different sectors including private equity, professional services, business process outsourcing, telecommunications, media and across the fin tech/high-tech sector.

Kate Latham

Kate Latham joined the firm in 2011 to lead and develop the Retail practice. With over 13 years’ executive recruitment experience, Kate has a track record of successful senior level and main board appointments for multinational and UK retailers, across the full spectrum of retail routes to market.


What impact have digital advances had on businesses in the last 12 months?


What changes has that brought to the Chief Digital Officer role?


How has this digital transformation affected retailers?


Is talent available for these roles?


What recognition are those with strong digital knowledge getting in terms on seniority? Is the investment there?

Kate: The huge disruption from digital has had a profound impact on the business model, the role of employees and the organisational structures of companies. In retail the business model and organisations structures have to be re-thought. The principle challenge is the speed at which technology is driving change. Retailers have to “keep the show on the road” whilst driving huge change at a phenomenal pace and their organisational structures are not traditionally set up to deal with this. Creating a compelling consistent experience through whatever channel the customer choses to shop, ensuring they can get the products delivered where and when they want and retaining customer loyalty requires a plethora of skill sets that retailers are having to add or home grow within their organisations.

Adam: The Chief Digital Officer (CDO) will become embedded in the business, it ticks all the boxes for shareholders. They offer a digital agenda which demonstrates progression, but in time that may evolve back into marketing or IT depending on the businesses.

Kate: We are starting to see the transition from Ecommerce and Multichannel Directors to Chief Digital Officers and also Customer Directors in retail. From a digital perspective they are trying to join up the experience from all their channels and create consistency. The debate is which parts of the business should they be responsible for? Should it be just the digital channel? All channels? Operations? Marketing? Should they be responsible for the customer journey end to end? Or is that the role of CEOs?

Adam: The CDO role requires an understanding of the businesses customer experience proposition and of who their customers are, what they are thinking and doing. The consumer sector is ahead of the game in investing in this, but people in the retail sector think they were slow to take it up. The DNA of retailers makes sure the customer comes first. They have always had a service proposition.

Kate: It’s had a profound effect on how retailers look at their customers. Five years ago successful retailers could expand by opening up more physical space. That is no longer the case. Retailers are forced to think about what customer want in terms of an experience, not just from a product perspective. They are thinking about the way their customers are networking. Banks are learning this as well, particularly in terms of how their customers wish to interact with them. Customers can price compare when they go online, they do not have to go to from shop to shop or bank to bank to find the best price. No matter what sector you are in the consumer has the choice and knowledge. They are king and this has changed the relationship. Companies are therefore working hard to create a compelling experience across all channels. This makes it much more difficult from a hiring perspective. Clients don’t always know what the candidate should look like and often they tend to think they will simply look like they used to but with something extra. With this shortage of talent in mind, we have to look in different sectors and then you can have the challenge of cultural assimilation. It’s an ongoing debate.

Adam: As Kate mentioned, a new generation of Chief Information Officers are stepping in to the fore who need a new skills set. They need to be able to present to boards and be part of the executive team reporting into the CEO, but in many firms they still don’t sit at this level which is a mistake. They will have to articulate the business drivers around the technology but still have enough of the technical know-how to answer the forward thinking demands of the business.

Kate: There is a strong demand for digital expertise and it comes at a premium; currently there is not enough digital experience at a senior level to go round. Therefore, companies need to think creatively about their internal talent as well as being open minded about the background of external recruits such as looking in different sectors or hiring brain power and capability rather than proven expertise. The best ones are intellectually agile and curious. Many firms are having to home grow their own digital leaders, such as Jeremy Fennell at Dixons who was previously a Buying Director but showed he was capable of taking the agenda forward. The technical knowledge required by the business was brought in beneath him.

There is also a challenge culturally assimilating digital innovators into a retail business. Retailers can be highly disciplined organisations and digital innovators thrive in less rigid environments, hence the creation of separate labs. CDOs need to think about how they set up their team to attract the best talent but also work in conjunction with the rest of the business.

Corporate venturing and partnering with external expertise is also increasingly popular allowing corporates to access new ideas, entrepreneurialism and nimble action. There is a lot of investment going into venture again. This is where you learn about what is coming next.

Kate: Digital expertise on retail boards is still embryonic but becoming more common. Examples include: Peter Fitzgerald, Country Sales Director at Google on the Debenhams Board; Matt Britten, Google’s President of Northern & Eastern Europe is on the Sainsbury’s board and Martha Lane-Fox co-founder of on the M&S board. Increasingly digital executives are making it onto the executive committees and many of them have very different backgrounds to their peers, an obvious example would be Matt Atkinson who came from a digital agency into Tesco to be their Chief Creative Officer. Digital executives on plc boards are still a rarity with Laura Wade- Geary Executive Director, Multichannel at M&S being an exception.

Demand for digital representation on the boards of retailers is however increasing. While 15 “digital” appointments have been made across the FTSE 350 and AIM indices in the last three years – representing 10% of all Executive and NED appointments at UK retailers – 67% of these have been made in the last 18 months.