If a “leader” is someone who knows how to take charge, achieve goals and inspire others along the way — even in the most trying of circumstances — then the women featured in this special section are leaders in every sense of the word. They have toiled and proved their mettle — and smarts — in a field that traditionally has not been all that female-friendly: technology.
The good news, however, is that the tide seems to be turning. Women are not only increasing their participation in retail technology, but taking on leadership roles. And they are doing it at a time when technology is revolutionizing every single facet of the retail and customer experience.
For the second year, CSA has selected 10 female retail technology executives (listed in no particular order) who exemplify the passion, innovation and leadership needed to succeed in today’s hyper-competitive and fast-changing retail environment. They all share a record of success that is worthy of emulation by all their peers.
Senior VP e-commerce, Pier 1 Imports
Stacey Renfro has been driving online growth at Pier 1 Imports since she was tapped as VP e-commerce in 2013. Under her leadership, the home decor and furniture retailer’s e-commerce revenue has grown from $30 million to more than $275 million, resulting in her promotion to senior VP e-commerce in April 2015.
Renfro heads up the e-commerce and customer relations teams at Pier 1 and partners closely with the stores’ organization to drive e-commerce growth rates that are among the highest in the industry. Total e-commerce sales represented 4% of total revenue in 2013, and had grown to represent more than 15% as of the second quarter of fiscal 2016.
Currently, Renfro and her team are focused on the company’s “1 Pier 1” omnichannel initiative, which aims to create one cohesive experience for the company’s physical and e-commerce channels. To date, the retailer has relaunched its website to incorporate responsive design, best-in-class navigation, geolocation and personalized recommendations, as well as re-architected the site with server-side enhancements and an easy-to-use mobile offering.
“Having a well-rounded background rooted in a passion for retail is critical in maximizing your impact,” advised Renfro, who, prior to joining Pier 1, was DVP digital commerce at J.C. Penney. “Possessing these traits will give you the flexibility to lead any organization within a retailer ... not just technology.”
Director of integrated retail, Sears Holding Corp.
Kateshia Hunter has more than 15 years experience in solving problems and executing operational excellence initiatives to streamline systems, processes and human capital — while also improving efficiency and productivity. Before joining Sears in 2011, she worked for other Fortune 500 companies, including Target and Ford Motor Company.
As director of integrated retail at Sears, Hunter works with leaders across the company, driving innovative digital experiences in Sears and Kmart stores. Currently, she manages and runs all aspects of Sears’ electronic shelf label (ESL) implementation in multiple departments in more than 500 stores.
The ambitious ESL initiative has delivered ROI in 18 to 24 months, with Sears seeing positive margins in the stores and departments where the system has been deployed.
Hunter is also overseeing the migration of home appliance and shoe departments in 150 Sears stores to the next-generation of ESL display technology, which features sharper, brighter three-color displays.
Hundreds of additional departments are planning for upgrades in 2016.
Director of technology systems, Target Corp.
During her 18 years with Target Corp., Keri Stelle has supported, developed, and implemented a host of business goals and IT strategies. Her most notable accomplishments include helping automate distribution center operations and, most recently, leading the implementation of Target’s SAP and finance platforms, which handle more than $70 billion of revenue for the enterprise.
In addition, Stelle has overseen the transformation of a 150-plus-member global IT organization to an “Agile” development model, which allows teams of experts to collaboratively and simultaneously develop different areas of a project. She also introduced open source Java software into Target’s finance technology arena, which manages millions of annual transactions. And she enabled Target’s sales audit systems to track omnichannel sales with a unified platform.
Stelle is an active supporter of women’s professional growth in retail technology. She serves as the co-chair of Target’s Women’s Business Council, with an emphasis on recruiting and retaining women in technology.
CIO, Ulta Beauty
As CIO of Ulta Beauty, Diane Randolph is responsible for creating and evolving the fast-growing retailer’s IT strategy. This includes not only building and maintaining a long-term road map, but also augmenting and nurturing talent and fostering innovation.
Recent accomplishments include delivering the store operations team such important tools as mobile inventory management capability, and iPads for mobile workforce management and business intelligence reporting. Randolph has also been busy on the consumer side, where she oversaw the release of improved Ulta mobile apps for Android and iOS devices, including Apple Watch.
Projects that will garner her attention in 2016 include opening Ulta’s fifth distribution center (in Dallas), as well as rolling out improved forecasting capabilities for all categories and a new product information management solution.
“Remember to embrace the elements that make women uniquely suited to 21st-century leadership challenges,” Randolph advised other women retail IT executives. “Our nurturing capabilities enable us to forge collaborative relationships with our business partners and our teams.”
VP enterprise systems and strategy, Gap Inc.
In her 15-plus-year career at Gap Inc., Amy Stanberry has provided IT services and support across a wide range of functions, including supply chain, merchandising, product development, inventory and store systems.
In her current role as VP enterprise systems and strategy, Stanberry is responsible for project delivery and end-to-end support for the core retail, finance, HR, real estate, marketing and collaboration platforms across the specialty chain. Additionally, she oversees Gap’s IT investment strategy.
Prior to assuming her current role in 2010, Stanberry served as CIO for the company’s Banana Republic division, developing and executing the chain’s technology capability road map.
Stanberry’s notable projects in the past year include delivering EMV compliance for the Gap division, as well as overseeing the launch of the Old Navy banner into Mexico and upgrading the company’s Oracle Retail platform.
“Women in retail IT must constantly learn and evolve to stay relevant and aligned with both their internal business partners and external customers,” said Stanberry. “If you start to get bored, push yourself to learn or try something new. Chances are, the more you learn and grow, your career will advance, too.”
CIO, QVC Inc.
Linda Dillman oversees the global IT team at the third largest multi-category retailer in mobile commerce in the United States: QVC. She has leveraged a variety of leadership experiences, including serving as CIO of Walmart from 2002 to 2006, to create a more agile technology platform, allowing QVC to respond quickly to shifts in customer behavior and viewer preferences.
QVC has seen strong and steady growth via its digital platforms, with online commerce representing 43% of global revenue and 48% of U.S. revenue in its most recent quarter. To support such heavy digital engagement, Dillman orchestrated major changes by transforming QVC’s IT infrastructure into a global shared service.
Under her leadership, QVC has also enhanced its iPad app experience and launched a new Apple Watch app. In October 2015, she helped launch the QVC app for Apple TV.
Currently, Dillman and the IT team are implementing a three-year road map that identifies key business-oriented areas for QVC and the IT capabilities needed to support each priority. It’s a strategy that will shift the IT team’s role from delivering IT projects to delivering business capabilities.
Senior VP/CIO, Carter’s Inc.
Janet Sherlock brought a rich background with her to Carter’s Inc., where she has served as senior VP and CIO since 2010. A former research director at Gartner Research, Sherlock also held various executive positions, including CIO of Calico Corners and VP IT for Guess Inc.
At Carter’s, Sherlock oversees technologies and teams that support a wide range of business areas, including e-commerce, supply chain, HR/ finance, business intelligence, and portfolio and project management. She is also responsible for managing a broad array of systems, ranging from merchandising, planning, allocation and POS to order management, e-commerce, payment, product lifecycle management, ERP and warehouse management solutions.
Most importantly, Sherlock must ensure Carter’s IT infrastructure supports growth in revenue and improvement in margin and productivity.
Since July 2015, Sherlock has also served as chairman of the National Retail Federation CIO Council. She recommends other women holding executive roles in retail technology work to address societal gender role bias.
“Women shouldn’t be afraid of ‘having it all,’” said Sherlock. “That phrase is typically associated with women, as if it’s a privilege to have a great career, a partner, a family. Men have ‘had it all’ for centuries, perhaps as an unfair expectation. There’s just as much gender bias toward stay-at-home dads as there is against women who want to have it all.”
Senior VP/CTO, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Suja Chandrasekaran joined Walmart as chief data officer in 2011, and has served as senior VP and CTO since 2014.
As CTO, Chandrasekaran focuses on enabling the “OneWalmart” internal vision of a cloud-based technology foundation designed to serve the omnichannel customer. Among its primary goals are providing a tailored and satisfying experience to customers, whether in-store or through device access, and knowing customer and associate personas and preferences.
Most importantly, Chandrasekaran works to enable delivery of a consistent, holistic experience across all channels in a scaled, seamless manner.
Prior to Walmart, Chandrasekaran served in technology leadership roles at retail and CPG companies, including global CIO of The Timberland Company, CTO of PepsiCo and CIO at Nestle. Throughout her career, she has led various e-commerce, technology and digital transformations.
Chandrasekaran takes an active role in developing female leaders at Walmart. She is the founder and sponsor of the Walmart Women in Technology initiative, and leads various platforms in developing women of color and Asian women as leaders. For women in the world of retail technology, her advice is direct.
“Be bold,” said Chandrasekaran. “Be visible. Be heard. Be current. Be a technologist.”
A stint as an IT contractor led to a full-time job for Liz Crawford, who was named CTO of online beauty subscription retailer Birchbox in 2011.
Crawford is focused on growth and advancement in the retailer’s IT infrastructure, and manages a global team that handles IT for the retailer, which operates online in a growing number of foreign markets.
Founded in 2009, Birchbox opened its first permanent store, in New York City, in 2014, and plans to open additional locations in 2016. This adds a whole new layer of technology for Crawford as she works to implement, manage and seamlessly integrate store operations with existing online ones.
Crawford’s background in IT startups has surely prepared her well for Birchbox’s focus on new and innovative projects. Her past experience includes serving as co-founder and CTO of Crono, a developer of artificial intelligence-based personal assistant agents, and CTO of Aprizi, a discovery platform for fashion and home decor designers.
Emily Culp hit the ground running when she joined Keds in July 2015, arriving just in time to oversee the launch of the company’s global omnichannel marketing campaign — “Ladies First Since 1916” — focused on equality and female empowerment.
As the top marketer at the iconic footwear brand, Culp manages strategic development and execution of content, PR, digital and omnichannel marketing, and retail development. Although it’s only been six months, she already is making her mark at Keds and displaying her passion for the consumer, using social media and email to garner customer feedback for such activities as branding, pricing and advertising.
Culp came to Keds with a strong professional history that suggests the brand is in for some positive disruption. Prior to Keds, she was senior VP omnichannel marketing and e-commerce at fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff, where she played a key role in creating the designer’s digitally savvy “connected” store concept. The highly touted format merges digital with physical retailing, and includes interactive mirrors in the fitting rooms that interact with RFID tags to automatically recognize the merchandise being tried on and to suggest complementary accessories.