Chain Store Age presents its third annual “Top 10 Women in Retail Technology ” report, which showcases the achievements of an influential group of technology executives. The professionals in the class of the 2017 — profiled below in no particular order — exemplify the innovation and leadership needed to suceed in today’s fast-changing retail environment. They share a record of success that is worthy of emulation by all their peers.
Beth McCormick, VP of applications, PetSmart
Beth McCormick worked in retail throughout high school and college — an experience that sparked her initial interest in retailing. However, it was her role as an IT consultant that helped her realize she found her niche and “fell in love with retail technology.”
“I learned the distinct challenges retail clients faced and how technology could help meet those challenges head on,” she said.
Her consulting experience lead her to join American Eagle Outfitters in 1999, where she was responsible for store systems across the brand and applied technology to push for more superior customer experiences. During her tenure, she held various IT leadership positions, including VP of applications.
After 14 years at American Eagle, McCormick joined PetSmart in 2014 as VP of applications. While there, she has built a new IT organization responsible for development, delivery and application operations that support key initiatives across the organization.
McCormick is also responsible for bringing PetSmart’s digital platform in-house. The architecture took 10 months to complete — just in time for the 2016 holiday season. She said the project, which also included replacing fulfillment and customer care partners, “was a fast-paced, very challenging project and when PetSmart.com went online it was quickly robust and stable.”
McCormick has been fortunate to have significant roles with two large retailers. But she said it’s still challenging at times to be the only woman on the team or in the room.
“There are still far too few women executives in IT, and we must work hard to change that,” she added. “While I’ve always had tremendously supportive bosses and leaders, I still find myself in situations where I am treated differently.”
McCormick’s success is driven by building trusted, respected partner relationships with business leaders, listening to customers’ needs, keeping up with technological trends and, most importantly, aggressively delivering value to the business.
“[Retail IT] is incredibly fast-paced, stimulating and challenging,” she added. “IT has to move fast in order to keep pace, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Kristen Williams, Senior director e-commerce, Walmart
Even as a student at the University of Arkansas in 1999, Kristen Williams was passionate about IT. After taking a position as a network cable installation tech on campus, she learned technology “from the ground up” — a concept so profound that she changed her major from industrial engineering to computer engineering. The change landed Williams a position as a network analyst at Walmart upon graduation in 2001.
She worked her way up, holding a variety of roles and leadership positions — and always using her passion for retail technology as a conduit for new opportunities.
“I am attracted to both the tinkering side of technology, and the cognitive side,” she said. “Technology is not only a pathway for executives in the field. It can solve problems, make users’ lives easier, and open more doors for businesses.”
Williams is eager to learn new tech trends, drawn to new projects and uses technology as a means of reaching new goals. One accomplishment she is proud of is helping Walmart integrate its online and offline experiences; building and expanding its online grocery and pickup business, as well as driving its omnichannel operation both domestically and abroad.
“Driving e-commerce integration was a huge accomplishment and a highlight in my career so far,” Williams said.
Yet, of all her accomplishments, Williams said she is most proud of the fact that she has become “a well-rounded player who can help the company solve problems.”
“I am always looking to satisfy my next goal,” she said. “Staying abreast of technology trends lets me move toward my potential, and keep moving forward. Working toward new accomplishments is not something I am willing to sacrifice.”
Deb Dixson, Senior VP, global chief information security officer, Best Buy Co.
As the breadth of digital technology — and data — continues to expand, information security professionals across the retail industry struggle with how to secure their organizations. This challenge is something that Deb Dixson confronts daily.
Dixson’s passion for technology evolved through a sales job where she sold grading, scheduling and testing software and hardware to the education industry The first step in her retail technology journey was as an IT contractor tasked with replacing a homegrown gift card system with a vendor-provided system.
“It gave me great exposure and the opportunity to interact with many facets of the business, including the need to constantly morph and change to meet the needs of our customers — and I was hooked,” Dixson recalled.
That need for reinvention prompted Dixson to explore what was happening in retail related to information security. With an eye on protecting enterprise data, she created the role of chief information security officer at Best Buy, serving in the position from 2000 to 2009, and then at Delhaize America from 2010 to 2014, where she also served as senior VP and U.S CIO. Dixson rejoined the executive team at Best Buy in 2015 as senior VP, global CISO.
As employees and customers have access to so many more solutions that collect data and access networks, “it’s transforming how we need to think and act, as well as the conversations we have to have at all levels,” Dixson said.
“The pace of proliferation and the power of these devices are moving far faster than standards and regulations, which has historically been a guidepost helping us articulate and manage risk,” she explained.
Forging a path that hadn’t previously existed is a testament to Dixson’s passion for retail IT and speaks to her interest in solving new problems as they arise.
“Doing the research and putting the proposal together to create one of the first CISO roles and information security teams in retail, taking teams through major transformations to better serve the business, and helping partners create solutions to address gaps in the industry are the things that I look back on,” Dixson added. “I’m grateful to have been in the right place at the right time to have made an impact.”
Ashlee Aldridge, Senior VP and CIO, DSW Inc.
Ashlee Aldridge believes that retail success stems from teamwork and strategic relationships. After spending 1999 to 2003 at Deloitte, where Aldridge worked with a number of retailers and consumer packaged goods companies, she got hooked on retail. Her first role came in 2003 when she joined Zale Corp. as VP of strategic development. A year later, the jewelry retailer named her CIO. Aldridge left Zale in 2006, going on to CIO positions at such national chains as West Marine, Restoration Hardware and Golfsmith International.
In 2015, Aldridge joined footwear giant DSW as senior VP and CIO, responsible for the chain’s global technology strategy and transformation programs. She leads the enterprise’s transformation as it moves toward adoption of web-enabled touch points, while keeping a keen eye on how to apply technology to serve the ever-changing needs of the omnichannel consumer.
While there will always be an unlimited number of technology problems in the field to solve, Aldridge has set her sights on aligning relationships, and managing organizational change, talent acquisition and retention.
“I work daily to connect my peers, team and partners to meet the goal of our mission, support change and encourage talent development, retention and attraction to our business,” she said. “This inspires me to do better on behalf of our customers, our company and our team. I believe executing this approach is one of the most critical skills a retailer needs to win on the way to 2020.”
Rachel Mushahwar, General manager, head of Americas sales: Retail, hospitality, and CPG, Intel Corp.
Retail is in Rachel Mushahwar’s blood. Four generations of her family, starting with her great grandfather, operated retail stores, the most recent being a supermarket in Colorado that closed when her parents retired in 2004. Her background gave Mushahwar the opportunity to do nearly every job in retail — and witness the industry’s transformation.
“Shoppers’ expectations have continued to rise, and retailers continually have to innovate to delight and amaze their customers,” Mushahwar said. “It’s a challenging, but exciting time when you think about all of the advancements we’ve seen to combine traditional brick-and-mortar stores with their supply chains, enabling stores to become living, breathing websites that deliver amazing customer experiences profitably.”
Before joining Intel, Mushahwar spent nearly a decade at PetSmart, joining in 2006 as IT director of backoffice applications/shared services. In 2013, she was appointed as VP of global enterprise applications, responsible for retail technology strategy, development and support for all segments of the company, domestic and international. In 2015, she took a leap to the other side, joining Intel.
As Intel’s head of Americas sales for retail, hospitality and CPG, Mushahwar works to help executives realize the value of a smart, connected environment and how they can analyze collected data to improve their company’s bottom line — efforts that “create new and differentiated business capabilities that drive amazing customer experiences, create new products or change how the supply chain operates,” she said.
“It’s about people, processes and creating that which has not existed before,” she said.
This mantra has underlined Mushahwar’s accomplishments. One of her biggest is not being afraid to take risks and accept the possibility of failure.
“Executives have always believed in me and coached me to take some risks in my career, try new roles and new companies,” Mushahwar said. “Only through the right kind of risks, experimentations and failures can you — or an organization — move forward.”
Deepika Pandey, Group VP, customer experience, direct and digital marketing, Walgreens
Deepika Pandey always wanted “to be involved with something that would truly change the world.” For Pandey, the opportunity arose with the evolution of e-commerce.
While doing research for a professor at Northwestern University, she began exploring multiple areas of retail and marketing and became attracted to “the future of digital.”
“I knew that I had found something that was going to completely transform the industry,” she said.
She joined McKinsey & Co., where she developed her digital expertise and built core business skills — knowledge that prepared her to take on the role as director of online strategy at Walgreens in 2008, where Pandey championed the redesign of the drug store chain’s website, while managing a 150-person customer experience team. She went on to launch the company’s mobile apps for iPhone, iPad and Android, as well as new digital processes, including the brand’s mobile Refill by Scan pharmacy service and Quick Prints photo functionality.
“Mobile is critical for us because we truly believe that is the great connector between the digital and physical worlds,” Pandey explained.
Her efforts have translated into a 4.5-star rating on both app stores, proving that “technology is not just about creating functionality. It can also transform the way that consumers think about your brand,” Pandey said.
Deanna Steele, Group VP, IT-brands, Ascena Retail Group
Retail is often described as a dynamic, constantly changing industry. That’s exactly what attracted Deanna Steele.
She got her first taste of retail upon joining Island Pacific in 1993, a position that gave her insight into how technology was becoming a business enabler. She experienced this evolution first-hand when she moved on to Deloitte’s retail practice as a senior manager.
“(At Deloitte), I was a ‘student of retail,’” she said. “I learned the importance of integrating technology with business strategies and processes, and witnessed it become a catalyst for organizational change.”
This insight jump-started her arrival at Hot Topic in 2004, as director of project management. Her first task: Open a distribution center on the East Coast that was completely integrated to the chain’s planning and allocation systems, purchase order management and complex replenishment processes.
During her seven-year tenure at the chain, Steele held different IT roles, including VP of IT, which prepared her for her next position: VP of IT at Express. Almost two years later, in November 2013, she joined Ascena Retail Group as VP of IT for its Lane Bryant division.
Steele now holds the title of Group VP, IT – Brands, at Ascena Retail. It’s a role that immerses her in the company’s ongoing transformational changes, and supports unified commerce, including the integration of new retail, business intelligence, financial and point-of-sale systems.
Steele often reflects on all she’s learned throughout her career, from being on the ground floor of omnichannel’s introduction at Hot Topic to using digitally driven solutions in her current role to drive growth at one of the nation’s largest specialty apparel companies.
“The projects are part of something bigger — it is exciting to know that I was part of teams that made meaningful impacts on the business as well as on the lives of our shoppers,” Steele said.
Lisa Emily, Director, IT e-commerce, customer-facing mobile and order management, Tractor Supply Co.
Lisa Emily truly believes she didn’t choose retail technology as a career. Rather, it chose her. Her first retail job was as a store manager at Kirkland’s, and later she worked in the wholesale customer service division at Johnston & Murphy shoe company while completing her degree at night. But she got her first taste of technology at DK Publishing, where she worked on many aspects of the JD Edwards OneWorld enterprise resource planning application.
In 2001, Emily joined the ranks of Tractor Supply Co. as a business analyst in merchandising, and by 2004, she joined the IT department as a systems analyst for merchandising systems.
Emily worked her way up the IT ladder at Tractor Supply rung by rung, holding various senior positions. By 2014, she transitioned to IT director of e-commerce, order management and customer facing mobile, where her passion for technology helped drive the retailer’s digital evolution.
Emily is most proud of her accomplishments that “encompass what I was able to achieve since moving to e-commerce.
She added: “I was learning a new technology stack, growing the team, including offshore development for capacity and building new processes, while working on re-platforming TractorSupply.com.”
Since the re-platform, the e-commerce team has successfully implemented an agile development process for continuous delivery of enhancements, and also delivered a buy online, pick up in store service.
“I have always had a passion for technology driving business value, and I have gotten to see the benefits of that value in a significant way in my role in e-commerce,” Emily said.
Sarah Gelbman, Global technology sales manager, Oracle
Whether managing new solutions, an influx of data or evolving processes, technology professionals are constantly juggling “information.” This is exactly what makes Sarah Gelbman thrive.
“I like the influence we have as technology professionals,” she said. “We are on the pulse of real, tangible, positive change.”
Gelbman began her IT journey in 2001, as manager of technical operations at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she led a team of specialists in technical management of the studio’s physical and digital assets. She spent five years at MGM, and then moved to the media industry, where she gained sales expertise.
Gelbman made the move to retail technology in 2012, as an enterprise technology account manager for Oracle. Among her projects: Working with Cole Haan in its divestiture from Nike.
“The project got a lot of visibility, and the success led to Oracle management tapping me for my appointment as global technology sales manager for Walmart [in 2013],” she said.
She leads a team of over 30 pillar sales leads and technical specialists in Oracle’s engagement across the huge Walmart enterprise. They cover the entire data platform.
Gelbman is especially proud of the work her team is doing on modern data hybrid cloud management.
“I lead an extremely talented group of sales specialists, technical engineers and architects, and we’ve authored a solution for a seamlessly integrated hybrid cloud data layer comprised of disparate platforms and sources,” she said.
These efforts set the tone to serve the digital, mobile customer.
“Our work is not simply conceptual,” Gelbman added. “The business conversations I have every day center on modernizing and evolving the customer experience.”
Liza Landsman, Chief customer officer, Jet.com
As chief customer officer of the online marketplace Jet.com, which Wal-Mart Stores acquired in September in a $3.3 billion deal, Liza Landsman has an ambitious mandate: Ensure that Jet.com reaches the broadest possible group of consumers, and that shoppers on the site have a world-class experience.
Landsman joined the online startup in March 2015, bringing with her an impressive resume that includes financial services, marketing and data science. Prior to Jet.com, she was chief marketing officer for E*Trade, where she led the firm’s marketing initiatives, including customer engagement, analytics and insights, advertising, and direct online and offline marketing programs and branded campaigns.
Landsman also held leadership roles at global investment firm BlackRock, where she was global managing director of digital, and at Citi, as managing director of North American consumer internet and mobile.
At Jet.com, Landsman is focused on engaging potential members at a broad level, and making sure the retailer provides a seamless end-to-end customer experience.
“It is important to understand — impacting what consumers [will] pay is the direct result of how our platform actually removes costs from the system rather than a focus on price, per se,” Landsman said in a Forrester blog post in 2015. “They are loving the great brands, great value and great consumer experience, and returning to build bigger and smarter baskets over and over.”