Pacesetters 2018: 10 Fast Rising Retail Executives


Lead. Follow. Or get out of the way!

That famous line has been used by military leaders and politicians for decades to inspire constituents and build organizational unity. It is also a perfect way to view the current retail landscape.

There is a small group of retailers that are setting the pace for success, and winning in the face of increased competition and technical challenges. This is the group that the fast-followers emulate, and the laggards hide from, as they lap them in the race for retail dominance.

RIS’ annual look at the 10 fastest-rising retail executives features game-changing executives from across retail verticals. Every member of the list has one thing in common ― they are boldly breaking the mold on what retail is and can be.

Congratulations to the 10 retailers named below, they are true industry leaders.

Amine Ayad

Amine Ayad

Head of Workforce Management & Optimization: Budgeting, Scheduling, & Industrial Engineering/Process Improvement, Bed Bath & Beyond

Amine Ayad is a workforce management guru who takes a scientific, innovative, yet practical approach to everything he does.

Home Depot created a Store Leadership Program in 2002 that was designed to bring in talent from outside of the organization. With his engineering background and understanding of business processes, Ayad was one of the first candidates to join the program, open his own store to manage and then become the district manager just a few years later.

Now Ayad leads Bed Bath & Beyond’s in-house industrial engineering team, assessing store operations and efficiencies to identify best workforce practices. He works to automate processes and has incorporated the measurement of work, scheduling and budgeting all under one department. He and his team leverage JDA Workforce Management to gain insight into operations, allowing them to create optimal, accurate schedules, and make long-range staffing plans.

Ayad is currently developing new technologies and processes to better assess behaviors and performance of employees. The idea is ready to move to the prototype stage and the technology should take organizations from the traditional ways of managing performance into the digital era. Ayad envisions the new technology will provide feedback regarding employee’s performance and management’s performance in more easily accessible ways.

John Peter Bertakis

John Peter Bertakis
Director of Operations, Brookhaven Marketplace

John Peter Bertakis was born into the food business. His father owned and operated a special import food and deli back in the 80’s, and the family opened its first Brookhaven Marketplace in 2004, with Bertakis serving as director of operations since its founding.

While the grocer is not a national player, it has a strong regional following in Northeast Illinois. It is investing in technology throughout the enterprise to streamline the customer experience and set itself apart from the competition.

Bertakis and his team have recently deployed a unified transaction solution from ECRS that binds inventory and POS marketing tools within one technology suite. It allows the retailer to deploy promotions and marketing campaigns without adding friction to the redemption process. 

“Personalized offers and benefits are the driving factors behind this tech,” says Bertakis. “We are still fairly new to the platform, however we are gaining major momentum as the majority of our sales are now associated with a customer. This will allow us to reach our base when marketing and make future offers far more attractive as they will be customized based on purchase behavior.” 

This new approach to loyalty, coupled with some next-gen biometric devices at the point of sale are helping position Brookhaven as a hip, cool grocery destination.  

“Efficiency at the front end is the name of the game,” says Bertakis. “We have deployed biometric devices at each register lane that allow our guests to identify without verbalizing personal information or scanning a card. It’s quick, easy, secure and fun.”

​​​​​​​Laurie Caldwell

Laurie Caldwell

Director of Marketing, eBags

Laurie Caldwell has been with the eBags marketing team for more than five years. She entered the organization as a senior marketing manager and two years ago was promoted to her current role as director of marketing.

Caldwell and her team continuously innovate with a focus on differentiating its e-mail campaigns and leveraging the large amount of information the online pure play collects from its shoppers.

She has helped reshape eBags e-mail strategy, offering personalized offers, messaging and content based on historical preferences, purchases, and customer segment data. The retailer deploys millions of e-mails, social media communications, browser notifications, and more each day. Based on shoppers’ engagement with these campaigns, coupled with their shopping history, eBags can tailor further communication and offers, increasing conversion rates and sales.

Miguel Carrillo

Miguel Carrillo

Senior Manager, Retail Marketing, Global Partner Markets, Converse Inc.

Along with the Converse Global Partner Markets team, Miguel Carrillo develops and delivers marketing solutions in more than 40 countries. Carrillo and his team are constantly looking for technologies that make them more efficient across their various markets.

 “We serve many markets and are a small team,” he says. “We can’t be constantly traveling around the world to ensure that our brand and merchandising standards get executed correctly.”

Implementing technologies has helped Carrillo drive efficiency. For example, the team recently deployed Foko, a platform that helps improve communication between HQ and partners and save time on merchandising compliance validation.

“Now we have better visibility into stores and can be more responsive to execution problems, while gathering analytics on compliance levels,” he notes.

Carrillo is continuously looking for ways to improve the customer experience online, in-store and in physical activations. His team recently deployed technology that enables Converse to tell deeper stories and inspire an emotional connection to the brand through sneaker customizations.

“We need to connect better to our consumers and have the store become a place where unexpected, memorable experiences happen,” he says.

Jesse Carstens

Jesse Carstens

Senior Manager, eCommerce Operations & Technology, Deckers Brands 

Jesse Carstens has been with Deckers Brands (UGG brand) for 10 years, getting his start as a seasonal temp in the call center. Over the last few years, he has been spearheading Deckers’ omnichannel initiatives and oversees the company’s OMS and fulfillment operations and technology.

Carstens and his team have designed and launched a homegrown omnichannel OMS platform that provides the company with best-in-class capabilities, such as advanced reserve logistics, ship from store, buy online pickup in-store, retail inventory online, and same-day shipping. This year Deckers has primarily focused on two technology advancements: same day delivery and its Retail Runner app.

Carstens has an entrepreneurial mindset, and is able to flex that mindset effectively within the framework of a larger organization. For example, Carstens and his team are bringing robotic process automation competency to the business, allowing workers to focus on vital tasks instead of drowning in routine.

“As we define these experiences, we want to put the customer at the front,” says Carstens. “If we have a product anywhere in our network and our customer wants it, they should be able to purchase it however they like. These technologies allowed us to offer these conveniences to our customers, while operationally operating more efficiently.

Mike Girardin

Mike Girardin 

Director, E-Commerce, Silver Jeans Co.

Mike Girardin is an online veteran. Having developed and managed websites for more than 20 years, he has experience in a variety of verticals inducing politics, e-learning, insurance and most recently retail.

Girardin has been the director of e-commerce for apparel retailer and manufacturer Silver Jeans Co. for the past four years and has helped grow the premium denim brand’s direct-to-consumer business. As the retailer continues to improve and increase its digital presence, speed and a seamless user experience have become paramount objectives.

To help ensure a fast, reliable and feature-laden customer experience, Girardin and his team took on the bold initiative to rip and replace the retailer’s e-commerce platform. By implementing Salesforce Commerce Cloud to power its e-commerce operations, Silver Jeans can now seamlessly integrate internal platforms with its e-commerce engine though its cartridge infrastructure. The plug-and-play approach to the platform allows Silver Jeans to deploy experience-defining updates to its e-commerce offering quickly and efficiently.

“The new e-commerce platform allows us to focus on customer service,” Girardin says. “We spend less hours on development and putting out fires now. We are able to concentrate on quality assurance and building the business.”

In conjunction with the new e-commerce platform, Girardin and his team have taken a mobile-first approach to Silver Jeans’ online presence.

“The mobile experience is first and foremost,” he says. “Most of our users are shopping on mobile and we need to be thinking about what they need. It is no problem scaling up from mobile to make a good desktop experience, but it difficult the other way around.”

Rachael Kennedy

Rachael Kennedy
Senior Process Manager, Merchandising and Supply Chain Operations, L.L. Bean

Over the past several years, L.L. Bean has transformed from a catalog-centric retailer to a true omnichannel enterprise, and Rachael Kennedy and her team have been an integral part of that evolution.

Kennedy joined L.L. Bean more than 11 years ago, and has held various positions in inventory management and product development. Recently, she was promoted to senior process manager within a new centralized organization, merchandising and supply chain operations. The team is focused on evolving processes and toolsets to keep up with emerging business needs and new technology as L.L. Bean continues on its transformative path.

“Business transformation has been a collaborative effort between our IT department and key business units to undergo a complete overhaul of our technical infrastructure and business processes,” she says.  “The goal was to enable more efficient and standardized work processes across the company, while significantly reducing the overall number of applications maintained by our internal IT group.  We’ve retired hundreds of outdated systems, and have replaced them with robust industry standard toolsets from JDA, SAP, FlexPLM, and Manhattan.”

As part of this initiative, L.L bean took a big step forward, adopting an omnichannel supply chain model when it merged its separate retail and direct inventory pools into one shared inventory last year.  The retailer’s virtual supply chain network has visibility to warehouse and store level demand, either of which can be filled from the shared pool of inventory. The change has enabled L.L. Bean to improve service levels while carrying less overall inventory.

Aaron Quiggle

Aaron Quiggle

Director of Freight & Home Delivery, Icon Health & Fitness

Aaron Quiggle leads a team at Icon Health & Fitness that has developed a complex network of freight and final mile carriers to deliver over 200,000 pieces of fitness equipment direct to consumers each year.

Three years ago the retailer suffered many bottlenecks in its shipping process, as its home delivery volume was too high for any one carrier to handle on a nationwide basis. Quiggle partnered with a 3PL group that allowed Icon to bring all the carriers in under one ‘control tower.’

“We use complex rules and consolidation methods to allow us to deliver efficient customer experiences at a good cost,” Quiggle explains. “We needed to provide a platform for our customers to have a superior delivery experience.”

Convey delivery management software provided that solution, helping to provide customers with a concierge delivery experience that keeps them in the loop ― ultimately avoiding customers calling about their orders.

During its most recent peak season, Icon rarely had bottlenecks within its LTL network or final mile network and the retailer was able to react quickly to remedy the situation when bottlenecks did occur, due to the multiple carriers in play.

Jennifer Skeen

Jennifer Skeen

VP of Omnichannel & Marketing, Sun & Ski Sports

As VP of omnichannel and marketing, Jennifer Skeen has helped Sun & Ski Sports bring to life the experiences that its customers desire, driving increased conversions as well as an improved customer experience.

When Skeen joined Sun & Ski Sports, she implemented Chatmeter, local SEO analytics and reputation management software. The move helped the retailer hear its customers online and be able to pull store and social review data. It fundamentally changed the way the retailer grades its stores and store managers. 

“This has greatly improved our ability to retrain, and sometimes reset, how we engage with customers,” she says. “It has increased the ability for our store managers to action feedback in a timely fashion. With Chatmeter we are also able to respond to our customers to let them know we hear them and are thankful for their feedback.

To deliver personalized experiences, Skeen and the digital merchant team leverages the tools within both Kibo NG and Kibo Personalization to test different experiences to see how customers will engage and convert. 

“We monitor our units per transaction, attach rate, conversion, and sales to continue to tweak and re-evaluate to provide the most conversion rich and relevant experiences to the customer,” says Skeen. “As we continue to work on providing the systems even more data about our customers in-store transactions, we hope to be able to deliver this information in a clientelling type tool to both our store associates as well as our customer service team.

Cindy White

Cindy White
Senior eCommerce Marketing Manager, Plow & Hearth

Cindy White is a results-driven marketing manager with over 14 years of experience. She is passionate about the omnichannel customer experiences and developing automated campaigns to increase overall engagement and proficiencies. 

White has been with Plow & Hearth for eight years. She started as a marketing coordinator, advancing to her current roll as senior e-commerce marketing manager. In this role, she is responsible for managing a portfolio of more than five brand’s e-mail and website strategies.

One of the key technologies she has helped deploy is a marketing tool from 4Cite Marketing that “listens” for when an inactive customer is shopping somewhere else on the web, sending an e-mail during this key decision-making period. The technology uses a cooperative model via tracking pixels placed on retail sites. This ability to reach inactive customers when they are currently shopping added thousands of consumers back into Plow & Hearth’s active e-mail list while driving sales.

“The initial objective was to re-engage older segments with little risk to deliverability,” White says. “Not only did we re-engage thousands, the e-mails garnered a 16% open rate with customers who previously had a 0% open rate. Moreover, they spent 139% more than inactive shoppers who were reactivated via other channels such as paid search. Additionally, recipients who make a purchase within 30 days of receiving the e-mail have a significantly higher average order value than the average shopper.

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