Consumer, Retail & LeisureOur Consumer, Retail and Leisure Practice supports clients across Europe and further afield to build high performance teams at Board, CEO and senior functional leadership levels. Our clients include founder-led and privately owned businesses, private equity-backed portfolio companies and listed multi-nationals, and are characteristically companies seeking to drive substantial change and performance improvement in situations including high growth, turnaround and ownership change. We focus on consumer products and service, food, general and specialist retail, hospitality and leisure, and E-commerce and online consumer services. In addition to CEO and general management positions, we cover key functions including sales & marketing, buying & merchandising, design, operations, supply chain and HR. We work in tandem with our colleagues in the Finance, Strategy & Legal Practice on finance, legal, corporate development and strategy roles. Blackwood’s “one team” approach positions us uniquely in the market: we are able us to draw on the combined expertise of the firm to identify, attract and assess the highest quality executive and provide the best advice to our candidates and clients. Innovation is of paramount importance in the consumer sector: established companies must constantly revaluate their relationships with the customer and deal with market challenges in the form of economic pressures, new routes to market and new market entrants, while those same new entrants must quickly develop the expertise and management capability to secure their position. Our team draws on deep sector knowledge, substantial search and industry experience and high levels of judgement to identify and attract the highest calibre executives capable of meeting these challenges. [key_contacts]
RoleThe new investors and management were keen to recruit a proven Sales & Marketing Director to work closely with the CEO and CFO to drive the commercial performance of the business and take a more aggressive approach to business development. The successful candidate needed to set and deliver clear strategies for distribution, marketing and product in order to successfully increase market share, deliver profitable growth and professionalise the function. In this relatively small business, the Sales & Marketing Director needed to combine strategic leadership and a hands-on operational approach.
Search ProcessThe client was keen to identify candidates from high quality, branded consumer products businesses, ideally consumer durables with a similar price and volume dynamic. Within a well-defined universe of target companies we mapped out and referenced those in commercial leadership roles, approached the highest calibre individuals and assessed them for skills and cultural fit.
OutcomeThe successful candidate was Head of Sales, UK for one of the world’s largest manufacturers of domestic appliances. He had previously held marketing roles and had substantial general leadership ability. Although it was the candidate’s first role in a private equity backed business, he was able to demonstrate a track record of commercial success and a pragmatic, focused approach. Contact team members
RoleThe new CMO required experience of the relevant markets (Central and Eastern Europe and former CIS), a blue chip marketing background and the ability to work in a complex environment with multiple stakeholders and a highly entrepreneurial culture. The business is decentralised with a small central management team and highly autonomous country management, having grown through a series of acquisitions of local brands. The challenge for the CMO was to identify marketing synergies while pursuing a local brand strategy, and to share best practice without creating a large group marketing function. Candidates also had to be able to operate effectively at board level and be willing to undertake extensive travel.
Search ProcessOur target universe included food and beverage and HPC manufacturers with local brand strategies and emerging market activities. Challenges included identifying candidates with both blue chip training and entrepreneurial experience in a business of equivalent scale. Heavy sourcing into target companies was required in order to identify individuals with the relevant mindset. Candidate intervews took place across Europe, and Blackwood played a key role in coordinating and calibrating feedback from all the client representatives.
OutcomeThe successful candidate was a Russian national based in Switzerland with substantial international experience in marketing and general management roles in blue chip FMCG companies, a track record of successful performance in emerging markets and a tough but flexible mindset.
Levi works on assignments across all practice areas. He read Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University.
RoleCandidates needed to have held listed company board roles previously and have recent retail executive experience. There was a requirement for the Supervisory Director to build relationships with a well-established, high-level supervisory board and to provide input to the executive management team through more informal channels. An ability to speak German or a willingness to operate through a translator was required.
Search ProcessBlackwood methodically mapped recently retired retail executives in Western Europe and assessed them against agreed criteria and for cultural fit. A small group of high calibre candidates was introduced to the Chairman.
OutcomeThe final candidate was a very recently retired executive director of a major UK based, international retailer with a broad range of international contacts within the sector and at government level. This was the first non-executive role taken by the candidate post retirement. Contact team members
RoleWith a wide range of opportunities for international expansion, the Board faced a number of significant strategic decisions and sought a Non-Executive Director with a deep understanding of premium food and beverage brands, experience of rolling out retail concepts and exposure to multiple operating models. In addition, experience in delivering early stage growth and working effectively with founders and investors was essential.
Search ProcessThe client had a preference for a proven Non-Executive and the search focused initially on Chairmen and plural Non-Executives with private equity experience, however this was broadened to include CEOs in order to find candidates with more current market exposure.
OutcomeThe successful candidate has a long career in the food industry, spanning branded food manufacturing and multi-site restaurant operations. A divisional CEO, this candidate has deep experience of operating in private equity-backed businesses and a strong track record in rolling out brands. Contact team members
RoleThe UK snacks market is highly competitive and the relatively new CEO was keen to hire an experienced board level Sales Director who could create an environment for growth in all trade sectors as well as contribute to the development of the overall business strategy. A deep understanding of the impulse category and strong trade relationships were critical. In addition, the Sales Director needed to lead the function through a period of organisational transformation.
Search ProcessThe search process was strictly confidential, as there was an incumbent in position. We initially conducted a mapping and referencing exercise focusing on individuals with significant sales and trade marketing experience in the UK FMCG space. A preferred list of candidates was agreed with the client ahead of approaches being made. After initial interviews a short list of the most relevant candidates were asked to sign an NDA ahead of Blackwood disclosing further information on the company.
OutcomeThe successful candidate was latterly at one of the UK’s largest branded food producers and had over fifteen years of FMCG experience (grocery and impulse) in sales, account management and marketing roles. Full referencing of the successful candidate was completed in conjunction with the client. Contact team members
RoleThe business is profitable with strong market share, but requires tighter cost management, increased above the line investment and a more focused approach to portfolio management and innovation. The incoming MD France needed to bring proven general management experience, deep relationships with French grocery retailers and a track record of delivering growth and managing acquisitions and integrations. The client had a strong preference for individuals with blue chip sales and marketing training, combined with recent private equity or entrepreneurial experience. Whilst candidates needed deep knowledge of the French market, an international mindset was also required.
Search ProcessCandidates included CEOs and divisional MDs from French and multi-national food and beverage businesses. The management teams of all private equity food deals in the French and adjacent markets were mapped and referenced. Thorough sourcing identified candidates from large cap multi-nationals who had moved on to entrepreneurial opportunities or who had a sufficiently entrepreneurial mindset to work effectively in a PE-backed business.
OutcomeThe successful candidate had sales, marketing and GM experience in a blue chip food manufacturer before moving into a founder-led entrepreneurial business. Contact team members
Rosie works on assignments across all practice areas. Prior to joining Blackwood, Rosie worked at Hammond Partners focusing on investment banking, capital markets and financing. She began her career as a consultant in theatre and promotion. She read Politics and Sociology at Bristol University.
Nick GribbonSenior Consultant
Nick leads Blackwood’s Consumer and Leisure Practice and has extensive experience across CPG, food and beverages, and the restaurant sector in particular. Prior to joining Blackwood, Nick worked at Russell Reynolds Associates with a particular focus on the consumer products sector in the UK and Europe. He began his search career at Heidrick & Struggles, initially based in London before transferring to the firm’s Mexico City office. He read Modern Languages at Bristol University.
Jonathan LeeSenior Consultant
Jonathan leads Blackwood’s TMT Practice and has worked extensively across media, entertainment and technology enablement. A particular focus is digital optimisation of businesses. Prior to joining Blackwood, Jonathan worked at The Zygos Partnership focusing on media and at Russell Reynolds Associates within the TMT team. He read Sports Science at Durham University.
Sam works on assignments across all practice areas. He read History at Cambridge University.
RoleWith a heritage in discount catalogue retailing, the business combined strong trading capability and direct marketing expertise, but was less developed in its understanding and use of digital marketing techniques. In order to compete effectively in the market, it needed to develop a more creative approach to marketing and to customer interaction and experience and a dynamic approach to online selling. The incoming CEO needed to have a strong pedigree in online commercial leadership, good technical understanding of digital marketing and a record of driving online growth ahead of the market. As a major local employer with loyal and long-serving staff, the company has a close-knit culture, and it was important for the CEO to recognise and effectively harness this, providing clear leadership to a well-established senior management team whilst meeting the requirements of the investors.
Search ProcessCandidates considered were CEOs, Managing Directors, ECommerce and Multichannel Directors of online retailers and other consumer-facing transactional businesses with equivalent or higher revenues and significant growth. It was acknowledged early in the process that previous private equity experience would need to be secondary to technical understanding of ecommerce. Similarly, the client was willing to consider a first time CEO, acknowledging that the location of the head office would substantially limit the number of candidates. The company is based in a rural area and required relocation or a willingness to commute weekly.
OutcomeThe successful candidate had a background in leading online divisions in retail and consumer services companies, with general management experience underpinned by a functional background in marketing in both retail and consumer goods. Contact team members
RoleThe Chief Operations and Supply Chain Officer position was newly established, following a strategic business review, as a member of the company's Management Board, reporting to the CEO. In addition to representing the functions of field & store operations and supply chain at board level, the COSO would also lead a number of key strategic initatives including the development of a more integrated international supply chain; driving synergies between the departments and designing the strategy and driving global delivery of a new distribution channel. Candidates for this position required a proven track record in leading major organisational change (both operational and cultural). Whilst their primary functional background should be in supply chain, it was essential that candidates had experience of leading additional functions and could demonstrate breadth of experience, a highly commercial outlook and the ability to operate credibly at board level.
Search ProcessOur target universe included retail, manufacturing and food service companies in Europe and North America and we considered current general managers, operations directors and supply chain officers. We also thoroughly explored the universe of experts in the planned new distribution channel, a sector more developed in North America.
OutcomeThe successful candidate had a background in FMCG and consumer durables and had led three substantial restructures of supply chain and manufacturing operations in international organisations.
RoleBlackwood worked closely with the CEO and investors to clearly define the criteria for this appointment. The two key requirements were to identify and attract a proven CFO with a track record of transforming the performance of a finance function in a private equity setting with significant experience of the retail and/or leisure sectors. The individual needed to be able to be a commercial business partner to the CEO and build relationships and credibility with the business, sponsors and banking community. It was also noted that the candidate needed to exhibit cultural sensitivity in order to fit into a well-established senior team.
Search ProcessIt was considered that a relatively small pool of suitable candidates existed with successful experience in a relevant sector, a privately held business of requisite scale. It was also noted that many candidates with such desired experience would likely be tied into a current project and unable to move. An added complication was the divisional nature of the role in a reporting line, albeit the region was run very much at arms-length. The location was also a factor, with certain candidates not keen to relocate. A constant challenge in the assessment process was to find CFO candidates with a demonstrable track record of adding value away from the core finance remit.
OutcomeBlackwood appointed the former CFO of several private equity owned retail and leisure businesses. The process was completed in 10 weeks, from commencement of the assignment to the successful candidate signing a contract. The long list consisted of a cross section of the market and 15 names. The shortlist consisted of five candidates. Three were taken through to second round and the clear favourite was offered the role and negotiated his exit having helped identify a successor. Blackwood completed full referencing throughout the process.
Charlie leads Blackwood’s Retail Practice and specialises in senior level board and functional appointments for private equity-backed, publicly-quoted and family-owned companies across retail and broader consumer facing businesses with a particular focus on Digital. Prior to joining Blackwood, Charlie worked at JCA Group focusing on board level appointments. She read Ancient History at Bristol University.