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The Power Players 2016
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The Power Players are fearless leaders who never shy away from what others may see as insurmountable challenges. These top retail executives have more than just elite status — they have vision, passion and heart. Their forward-looking decisions have a ripple effect across the industry, but they’re not afraid to take risks or push boundaries. They guide, inspire and challenge us to move beyond the status quo.
Mary Dillon found herself face-to-face with opportunity: Even with three teenage daughters, she wasn’t taking full advantage of what Ulta Beauty had to offer. And she knew she wasn’t alone. In 2013, Dillon left her role as CEO of U.S. Cellular to take on the challenge of raising Ulta’s profile and building on its success.
By late 2015, Ulta was achieving record earnings with revenue up 21 percent over 2014 and had added more than 5,300 new jobs. Ulta Beauty’s strong performance is guided by six strategic imperatives that Dillon and her leadership team developed and are now implementing with a commitment to continuous improvement and enterprise-wide collaboration.
With a track record and passion for leveraging consumer insights and customer-focused strategies, Dillon has also committed to strengthening the company’s brand awareness by utilizing digital, social and broad-scale advertising to drive brand engagement and increase the emotional connection with guests. If Ulta’s revamped loyalty program, now 17 million members strong, is any indicator, Dillon is well on her way to surpassing her goals.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Restoration Hardware Holding Inc.
If only consumers refreshed their homes as often as Gary Friedman has refreshed Restoration Hardware. The latest iteration is a new concept store, RH Chicago, that features shopping, a coffee and pastry shop, wine bar and performance stage in a 70,000-square-foot space.
Friedman is no stranger to pushing boundaries. Since joining the then-struggling retailer in 2001, he has constantly pushed, remade and rejuvenated. It’s emblematic of his entire career. Friedman, who was kicked out of junior college, began working in retail as a stock associate at Gap. He quickly moved up to manager and made the leap to Williams-Sonoma, where he moved up to president of the company.
His lasting impact, however, is with Restoration Hardware, a company he has turned around through calculated risk. In doing so, Friedman has proven that a constant remodeling project is never a bad thing.
Chief Merchandising and Customer Officer
No one can accuse Michelle Gass of failing to dream big. During her first two years at Kohl’s, she has helped implement the Kohl’s Greatness Agenda, which aims to make the retailer the nation’s most engaging by 2017, and they are well on their way. In her current role since June 2015, Gass’s leadership is already reaping benefits — Kohl’s new loyalty program has acquired more than 32 million members, their marketing strategy has taken a fresh and personalized approach and new brands, such as FitBit, have been introduced.
In some ways, those successes build upon expertise honed at Starbucks, where Gass spent 16 years in various capacities. During her tenure, she was key to the success of Starbucks’ Frappuccino beverage line, the expansion of healthier food options and the launch of their customer reward program.
Having devoted the majority of her career to retail, Gass sees being a part of this industry as a privilege, one that has allowed her to create deep, meaningful bonds with consumers while impacting their lives.
Executive Chairman and CEO
James Rhee is decidedly a numbers and operations guy. A longtime private equity investor, Rhee took the helm of plus-size fashion brand Ashley Stewart as it was on the brink of its second bankruptcy in just over three years. But it wasn’t just algorithms and technology that dramatically helped reinvent the company. Rhee also developed a core strategy of kindness and loyalty, understanding that the company represented respect, community and joy to its shoppers. By amplifying this message via social media and mobility directly to end consumers, Ashley Stewart has emerged as a social commerce leader.
Rhee came to his current role at Ashley Stewart as a member of the board; he is founder and president of FirePine Group, which holds a significant interest in Ashley Stewart.
Rhee considers loyalty a “ruthless differentiator” for those uninterested in challenging large-scale operators solely on the time-price continuum, and the payoff has been staggering: Ashley Stewart has become one of the fastest-growing and most profitable multi-channel brands in its category worldwide.
Stormy Simon’s Overstock.com career has been synonymous with potential: Not only what others saw in the entry-level sales representative who would work her way up to company president in 2014, but also what she imagined in the nascent world of e-commerce. Her light switch moment came when she realized that e-commerce was here to stay — and that she could have a voice in helping define what it would become.
That voice has continued to set industry standards. Recognized as a winner in the innovation category of the 2015 Women Tech Awards, Simon drives Overstock to keep taking risks. “You have to be comfortable making decisions, even when you’re not 100 percent sure of the outcome.”
Simon continually pushes Overstock to rethink existing practices with an eye toward improvement for the end user. Forward-thinking initiatives, such as the early adoption of cryptocurrency and domestic integration into the Chinese market, have helped cement Overstock’s position as a leader in global e-commerce. Simon was a driving force behind Overstock’s transformation from a pioneering online liquidator to an industry leader in first-run online retail. Under her leadership, Overstock recorded 13 straight profitable quarters, and the company’s continued commitment to its customers has been honored by such institutions as Forbes magazine.
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