This issue of MMR contains our annual listing of the 50 most influential executives in the global retail community. What’s new this year is that, for the first time, we have ranked the top 10.

David Pinto, 50, influential executives, MMR, global retail, Costco CEO, Jim Sinegal, Mike Duke, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, Dave Dillon, Lars Olofsson, Philip Clarke, Tesco, Gregg Steinhafel, Targetís CEO, Bob Ulrich, Stefano Pessina, CEO Alliance Boots,

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

The top 10 global retail execs

June 20th, 2011
by David Pinto, Editor

This issue of MMR contains our annual listing of the 50 most influential executives in the global retail community. What’s new this year is that, for the first time, we have ranked the top 10.

In the opinion of MMR’s editors, the first 10 names on this year’s list are the most influential retail executives on the planet. The key word here is “influential,” which is here defined as a combination of personal influence and the influence of the retailer the executive works for. It should be noted as well that the top-10 list includes only chief executive officers, the feeling here being that only a CEO can exert enough influence on a company to be rated within the top grouping.

As for the list itself, it is decidedly subjective, strictly the opinion of the journalists who write for and edit MMR. Yet it is reality-based in at least one sense: While omissions can be criticized, those executives who are listed among the top 10 clearly deserve their place in that rarefied ­atmosphere.

For instance, who can reasonably argue that Costco CEO Jim Sinegal is not the most influential and accomplished executive currently plying the retail trade? The performance of the company he has led since its founding in 1983 is beyond question. So, too, are his ability as a leader, his success in choosing and motivating people, his perspicacity in predicting and responding to consumer behavior, and the quiet but effective way he leads by word, deed and the example of his behavior. He is, in our view, the most important executive to grace and enhance the retail scene since Sam Walton left his indelible imprint.

The remaining names on the top-10 list are more logically open to challenge or, at least, to question. But their inclusion can be easily defended. Who, for example, can deny Mike Duke’s No. 2 ranking, despite Walmart’s uneven performance of late? He leads the largest company of any kind ever to open its doors for business. He has done so with an effective and sometimes striking blend of quiet management and decisive leadership. And Walmart is today a better, more balanced, less risk-averse, more exciting retailer than it was before his arrival.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, especially to those unfamiliar with online retailing, is the inclusion of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as No. 3 on our list. Our feeling is simply expressed: To those who know of Bezos’ accomplishments, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not, no explanation is possible. And for those with only a passing acquaintance with Amazon, further study of this marvelous retailer is highly ­recommended.

Dave Dillon and Lars Olofsson, CEOs of Kroger and Carrefour, respectively, are included as much for the influence of their companies as for their personal influence in heading those companies, while Philip Clarke, Tesco’s new chief executive, deserves a place simply for heading what is arguably the world’s most exciting and effective retailer, and for having been chosen, last spring, to follow Terry Leahy, one of the legendary retailing executives, in that role.

Gregg Steinhafel, Target’s CEO, has effectively led Target in formulating and executing several exciting initiatives, most recently the purchase of Canadian retailer Zellers, a move that has opened the door to Target’s entry into the Canadian market and global retailing. At the same time he has improved what he was handed by Bob Ulrich, the CEO who preceded him and one of the world’s great retailers.

Greg Wasson and Larry Merlo, ranked sixth and seventh for their effective leadership, respectively, of Walgreens and CVS, America’s two world-class drug chains, could easily be flip-flopped without argument. But Wasson has held his job longer, so …

Rounding out the first 10 is Stefano Pessina, CEO of Alliance Boots. He is perhaps the least known among the top 10. Yet his accomplishments as architect of one of the world’s most unique and exciting retail-wholesale drug empires cannot be disputed, denied or dismissed. Alliance Boots is, in short, the quintessential health care retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer currently operating on the European continent. And, as evidenced by his frequent visits to this country, America is clearly on his radar screen.

That’s the ranking of the first 10 among global retailing executives. Is it perfect? No. Are its choices debatable? Certainly. Do these executives merit a special place in the mass retailing hierarchy? Without question.