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In conversation with Stuart Rose

February 2024

Stuart RoseThis year’s World Retail Congress will focus on the theme of High Performance Retail and examine the traits needed to be truly world class in today’s retail landscape.

Spencer Stuart and the World Retail Congress co-hosted a launch reception for this year’s event, which takes place in Paris from 16-18 April. Our guest speaker was Lord Stuart Rose, Chair of Asda, EG Group and Zenith Automotive, who reflected on his long career and shared his thoughts on the challenges facing retail leaders around the world.

Looking ahead to World Retail Congress in April in Paris, how do you see retail today?

Stuart Rose: There are challenges all around us — wars, supply chain issues, cost inflation, elections coming up in many countries around the world — to name a few. Retailers can’t rely on the economy to quickly bounce back — we’ve got to look to ourselves. But this is exactly what retail does well. We are optimistic. We innovate. We surprise and delight our consumers.

Is winning in retail today different to when you started your career?

Stuart Rose: Having the right leadership remains the most important issue of all. Hire the best, invest in the best, look after the best, nurture the best. Human capital is paramount. After that, the ingredients that make retail winners haven’t changed: product, service and looking after customers. The values that were drilled into me early on in my career at Marks & Spencer remain true today: Quality, Value, Service, Innovation and Trust.

What has the growth in online meant for retail?

Stuart Rose: People want what they want, how they want it, where they want it — not at the price that we dictate to them — but rather at the price that they are prepared to pay.

Would you advise going into retail today?

Stuart Rose: If I had to go into business now, maybe I wouldn't go into retail. But having said that, what is our biggest downtime occupation? Shopping! We are people, we are social beings. We like to get out there, we create our own ecosystems. If you can stay ahead of how consumers are thinking and feeling, there are lots of opportunities in retail.

World Retail Congress

From left to right: Sally Elliott, co-leader of Spencer Stuart’s global Retail Practice; Stuart Rose, Chair of Asda, EG Group and Zenith Automotive; and Ian McGarrigle, Chair, World Retail Congress.

What is your view on AI?

Stuart Rose: We have access to a lot of data that is not being used to full potential. There seems to be a lot of fear about AI, but actually it can transform our businesses and make things a lot cheaper to run. AI should be embraced. There are many young adults coming out of school without basic skills that retailers are then having to teach them. We need to equip them properly, because AI is not going to put thousands of people out of work. It's going to give them different work.

Are retailers doing enough for the planet?

Stuart Rose: I started Plan A at M&S 20 years ago. At the time it caused a bit of a stir because everybody said how can you invest £200 million and not get a return for it? But the research hasn’t changed. Customers today tell us exactly what was being said 20 years ago. They want ethical, sustainable consumerism, but they don’t want to pay for it. Looking after our planet is a global responsibility that demands cooperation across governments, NGOs, and businesses, and we will have to invest in this. Nothing comes for free, but we must do what’s right for future generations.

Should retailers collaborate more when it comes to sustainability?

Stuart Rose: We are collaborating already much more than in the past, but still not to the extent we could be. We have to recognise that this issue is bigger than any individual company can address.

Have we reached peak consumption?

Stuart Rose: We've got a great opportunity to be the consumer's friend, to support them to live a better lifestyle, to help them make better choices, to be more efficient. Retail can take that space. It goes back to being trusted retailers and brands.

How will retail businesses look in 15 years?

Stuart Rose: I don’t have a crystal ball — but I do know that great retail leadership is about helping people to understand that change is inevitable.


Lord Stuart Rose is Chair of Asda, EG Group and Zenith Automotive. This piece is based on comments made by Stuart at a drinks reception at Spencer Stuart's London office for senior retail leaders, co-hosted by World Retail Congress and Spencer Stuart.