Influentials: Top 10 Movers and Shakers in Retail

The power of influence in the retail industry has long-reaching effect ― those with true influence have the ability to impact their organizations, shoppers and the industry as a whole. But amassing this kind of influence in the field of retail technology doesn’t happen overnight, it can take decades of strategy building, innovation and trial and error to reach the status of retail influencer.

The Top 10 Movers and Shakers in Retail were each chosen for their contribution to the retail industry and their respected companies. From overseeing a $4 billion retail portfolio, to driving iterative projects involving new technologies or advising Fortune 500 retailers, each of these Movers and Shakers is shaping the retail industry as we know it. 

To compile this list of retail’s most influential, RIS News interviewed each individual honored to uncover not only the innovative projects they have lead over their illustrious careers but what makes them tick. Not surprisingly, many of them spoke about passion. One Mover and Shaker advised to "find what you are passionate about, make sure it's purposeful and strive to have lasting impact." Another said you get the most out of people when they are doing something they are passionate about. Still another said what gets him out of bed each morning is his passion and ability to work with a variety of people and roles.

And speaking of a variety of roles, these Movers and Shakers each have a wealth of experience behind them in different positions and aspects of the retail industry. They credit their careers to their bosses, coaches, team members, and parents.

Read on to find out more of what makes each of the following honorees a retail technology Mover and Shaker.

Nikki Baird
Managing Partner, Retail Systems Research

Nikki Baird

As Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR), Nikki Baird focuses on trends impacting the consumer-retailer relationship, along with their supply chain and marketing implications. Baird brings perspective from all sides of the retail technology equation― she has served in prominent technology roles at both a large and a small retailer, and has provided advisory and consulting services for Fortune 500 retailers, distributors and manufacturers.  Prior to co-founding RSR, Baird was an analyst at both Forrester Research and Retail Systems Alert Group.

Currently Baird’s work is focused on the potential impacts of IoT, machine learning/cognitive computing, blockchain, and AR/VR interactions. Her biggest accomplishment is "getting retailers to acknowledge that the store is at grave risk and that they are not moving fast enough to fix it."

Baird acknowledges her ability to influence resides largely on her ability to take something complex and distill it down into a story that is easy to absorb and resonates to the listener.

"I have influence because when I say things, people evaluate them for themselves and believe that what I say makes sense. So trust is a critical part of my ability to influence ― trust that I have put a lot of consideration into my opinions about the future, and trust that if I don’t know, I’m not going to make something up. I take the value of that platform very seriously and guard carefully to make sure I don’t abuse it in any way."

Dave Finnegan
Customer Experience Officer, The Orvis Company

Dave Finnegan

Before Dave Finnegan worked at The Orvis Company, he spent 15 years as the CIO at Build-A-Bear Workshop. One of his career highlights was helping to lead the next-generation store of the future concept at Build-A-Bear, which is a blend of interactive and human centered retail that produce strong business results and has served as model for interactive retail.

He cites Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop, as one of his biggest influences. "She helped me to understand the importance of the experience we deliver for each guest every single day," he says. 

"At Orvis, we are working (like most) on taking our mobile experience to the next level,” Finnegan says. “In addition, we are working on predictive analysts that help us predict which products will be most successful and which will not. We are also working on a new generation of potential products that have IOT elements in them that give you feedback as you use them."

Finnegan believes that the subpar product success rate for the retail industry is a major growth opportunity. "The lion’s share of products do not deliver the results that we expect. As a result, we are either chasing product or worse, we have to employ liquidation strategies to get rid of the product. If we could change the predictability around product success, we could greatly impact our businesses."

Mindy Grossman
Chief Executive Officer and Board Member, HSN Inc.

Mindy Grossman

Mindy Grossman oversees a $4 billion direct to consumer retail portfolio as CEO of HSN, Inc. (HSNi). During her time at Nike she had the opportunity to develop and diversify its global apparel business and serve as co-chair of Nike’s Women's Leadership Council. Today, she is thrilled to be the newly-appointed chairman of the National Retail Federation, and to serve as vice chairman for UNICEF USA.

"Forty years ago, we created the first direct to consumer content network, and that entrepreneurial spirit continues today," Grossman says. "We are focused on making HSNi a leader in Boundaryless Retail, offering customers a seamless shopping experience across all channels."

By the year 2020, the current prediction is that there will be 50 billion connected devices ― approximately double what exists today, says Grossman. "Against that backdrop, we see tremendous opportunities with what we are calling the 'Connected Life' ― creating dynamic, immersive, and community oriented platforms that help customers live their best life and enjoy a connected life of meaning through inspired product, innovation and technology."

Having worked for some of the most successful entrepreneurs over the years, such as Ralph Lauren, Phil Knight and Tommy Hilfiger, what is Grossman's advice to her own team?

"Find what you are passionate about, make sure it's purposeful and strive to have a lasting impact. Inspire people with a shared vision of the future and give people the tools to be successful. Of utmost importance, do not underestimate the transformational power of believing in yourself, you are only as good as your reputation, never compromise your beliefs and always be human."

Editor's note: The above quotes from Mindy Grossman were collected prior to the announcemnt that she is leaving HSNi and will become the CEO of Weight Watchers. 

Leslie Hand
Vice President Research, IDC Retail Insights

Leslie Hand

Leslie Hand likes to say that she will always be a retailer through and through. In her current role she has the opportunity to work with many top retailers and the technology providers that serve them.

As vice president of IDC Retail Insights, Hand drives the research direction of the company, working with retailers and technology providers on developing best practices and strategies, aligned with where they are, and where they want to go. Before joining IDC, Hand spent 28 years in the retail industry, with five years in operations and 23 years in retail information technology and technology strategy leadership.

Hand is a true team player. "I lead a team of professionals ― all retail analysts, and each analyst is empowered to drive their own research programs and client relationships," she explains. "I drive consensus within the team on joint efforts, and allow the passions and expertise of each individual to blossom; to the net result of a value much higher than the sum of the parts."

At one company, Hand's team selected, implemented and supported all retail applications and technologies ― including store, payments, merchandising, communications, and workforce management ― for a start-up within an established retail organization. At another organization, her team built a mobile and desktop based data capture, process automation and analytics capability that enabled the team to reduce annual shrink by $40 million. At yet another, her team tested unit-level RFID processes for pharmaceutical distribution and management across the enterprise.

"These initiatives always required out of the box thinking and the creative application of technologies, in a way that drove real business change and significant business value," says Hand. "The consistent theme has always been driving a transformative shift in business through the application of new technologies."

Rafeh Masood
Vice President, Customer Innovation Technology, Dick’s Sporting Goods

Rafeh Masood

Rafeh Masood joined DICK’S Sporting Goods in June 2013 and is responsible for digital platforms, enterprise architecture and driving innovation across channels through technology to elevate customer experience across all brands.

One of Masood's biggest accomplishments was when he helped design Dick’s integrated commerce framework (ICF) that serves as the company's digital compass to deliver future digital capabilities. "The ICF led to the implementation of an integration suite that includes 100s of APIs that we have built, enabling faster development and continuous delivery of meaningful features," says Masood.

Currently Masood is working on adding meaningful features to DICK’S mobile app and looking for opportunities to delight customers. In one recent example, the "Move" feature of the app allows users to connect fitness tracking applications and earn Dick’s Scorecard points for achieving activity goals.

Going forward, Masood believes the technologies that connect the dots and enrich customer experiences are going to have the biggest influence in retail. "Analytics tools that can turn data into insights. AI that can leverage machine learning to enhance experience. And RFID and its many potential applications" are just a few of the technologies that will continue to shape today and tomorrow, he says.

Masood cites his dad as the biggest influence on his career. "His work ethic, sense of responsibility and integrity has played an early role in shaping how I perceive work. Over the years, I have also had the fortune of working with top-notch leaders, mentors and teams who have helped me grow and get to where I am today."

Sam Norpel
Vice President, Digital Commerce, David’s Bridal

Sam Norpel

Sam Norpel has a track record in the retail industry of developing interactive marketing strategies and driving purchasing behaviors through the use of digital techniques, including emerging platforms. Some of her recent work with David’s Bridal involved a partnership with Pinterest to develop a “Be Your Own Bride” quiz for future and current brides that resulted in their own personalized pin board. "We were the second retailer to leverage their API technology to create these boards and the first in the Bridal Market," says Norpel. "Now many of our top pins are the results of this quiz."

Norpel joined David’s Bridal in January 2016 after serving as the VP of digital transformation and acquisition at Lands’ End."I’ve been lucky to work with a number of retail brands in the last eight years and for each brand, their new technology was an accomplishment ― from rolling out digital marketing attribution technology to launching mComm and responsive sites," she says.

Now she encourages her team to work hard and play hard ― and to always think of ways to be innovative (whether it is changing a process or launching a new site feature).

Norpel cites her gymnastics coach growing up as a big influence on her career. "She taught me how to get back up on the balance beam after I fell. Today, if I’ve had a bad day or have 'failed' in some way, I give myself a night to have a pity party and then the next day, we get back up on the beam. I think it’s this tenacity that has helped me to get where I am today."

Michael G. Relich
Chief Operating Officer, Crate and Barrel

Mike Relich

As chief operating officer at Crate and Barrel, Michael Relich is responsible for corporate operations and oversees the IT, sourcing, supply chain and International teams, as well as Crate and Barrel’s business-to-business and outlet strategies. Prior to joining Crate and Barrel, Relich was the COO of GUESS? where he was responsible for leading the brand’s global operations and driving long-term strategic growth initiatives.

One of the many accomplishments of Relich's successful career in retail technology involved creating a retail analytics applications that combined over a dozen dashboards into one integrated application with drilldowns that went live just six months after the introduction of the iPad. What made this application unique, Relich says, was the combining of traditional analytical dashboard data with rich media from e-commerce (product and store pictures) to give merchants a visual analytical view.

"The application was used by all of the merchants and field teams and replaced paper reporting,” he says. “This application was the subject of a study by a MIT professor and propelled me to be a finalist for the MIT CIO award in 2013." Relich has served as a judge for the award for the past four years.

Currently at Crate and Barrel, his team is working with a SF based start-up, Outward, on some very cool 3D technology to power the visualization of furniture on the website as well as plans to use it for room design and plans in the stores.

"The way to progress in retail isn't in the huge multi-year, million dollar projects but in iterative projects involving new technologies ― especially in omnichannel," he advises. "There are a lot of really cool startups that love to team up with brands to test their products."

Jeff Rosenfeld
Vice President of Customer Insight and Analytics, The Neiman Marcus Group.

Jeff Rosenfeld

Jeff Rosenfeld has over 16 years of industry experience in analytics and is responsible for personalization, advanced analytics, market research, customer insight, data visualization, and business intelligence for The Neiman Marcus Group. Rosenfeld spearheaded Neiman Marcus’s transition from e-mail segmentation to machine learning driven targeting and personalization.

"This has proven to be a key foundation in our overall personalization journey and has driven multiple millions of dollars in incremental revenue annually," Rosenfeld says.

Now he is working on experimenting with using deep learning to better predict future customer behavior. "These predictions will be used to enable several new personalization use cases."

Rosenfeld is a huge believer that you get the most out of people when they are doing something they are passionate about. "I work closely with my team to try to carve out time for them to learn new things and/or experiment with some of the latest technologies.  A number of these experiments have led to strong sales driving use cases which further motivates the team."

Rosenfeld himself says he's been extremely fortunate to have had a number of great bosses and mentors over the years. "It’s impossible to pick just one, but each in their own way has had a huge impact on my career. I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without their help and the help of so many others along the way."

Jeff Roster
Vice President, Retail Strategy, IHL Group

Jeff Roster

As the VP of retail strategy at IHL, Jeff Roster is conducting research on the impact of the Internet of Things on retail, as well as artificial intelligence. "It's pretty impactful to say the least," says Roster, who also spent 15 years as the research VP, retail, at Gartner. When asked what key piece of technology he believes is having the biggest influence on the retail industry today, Roster says order management systems; "OMS is a foundational technology for unified commerce."

The biggest influence on Roster’s career came courtesy of Robert Goodwin, former managing VP, Gartner. "He was my first boss once I joined the analyst ranks at Gartner. He took a real gamble on a really green junior analyst wannabe. I worked my tail off to prove his trust was a good bet."

Today, at IHL, Roster works with people that are absolutely on the top of their game. "All of us coming together to contribute our individual pieces has produced a pretty compelling platform on which I get to stand and comment on the comings and goings of the retail industry as it wrestles with the great challenges of the day."

Kevin Sterneckert
Group Vice President of Innovation strategy, JDA

Kevin Sterneckert

Kevin Sterneckert drives JDA’s innovation efforts working with key customers and partners. With more than 25 years of experience, he brings a keen understanding of the challenges facing global supply chains and the solutions that drive profitable growth. Prior to JDA, he led marketing for Predictix and OrderDynamics. He also served as research vice president at Gartner where he advised leading companies around the globe and oversaw analysis of hundreds of supply chain software solutions each year. Sterneckert also served as senior director of global product strategy at Oracle Retail, and as the vice president of retail for DemandTec.

Having had the privilege of working in a variety of roles, Sterneckert says what gets him excited to wake up each morning is his passion for all aspects of the supply chain and ability to work with a variety of people and roles.

"I believe that everyone is unique and has something to offer, regardless of where they are in terms of experience and knowledge, and that we can all learn from one another," he says. 

This Mover and Shaker led a multi-million dollar study that included AC Nielson, IBM/DemandTec, and Daymon Worldwide in an effort to systemically identify the process of creating localized assortments and pricing.

"The work and deliverables became the foundation for research that I published while at Gartner, and continues to serve as the model used by many technology providers and retailers to deliver localized assortments and pricing today," says Sterneckert.

Today he enjoys being in the midst of JDA pursuing emerging technologies across the board.

"We are working on the inclusion of a broad spectrum of Internet of Things (IoT), big data sensing with predictive and prescriptive recommendations, the autonomous and intelligent supply chain, as well as technologies and techniques that are dramatically improving the profitability of the physical and digital channels."