Top Women in Retail 2018: Carrie Ask, Executive Vice President and President, Global Retail, Levi Strauss & Co.
To see the full list of this year's Top Women in Retail honorees, click here.
What do you enjoy most about working in the retail industry?
One of the best things about our industry is that it keeps you in touch with consumers and what’s happening in the broader culture. It keeps you young at heart and relevant. In a world where you have to "comp the comp," retail drives you to keep innovating and improving the consumer experience. There’s no “coasting” in retail, that’s for sure.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced consistently throughout my career is how to gather and build momentum for step change improvements in performance vs. incrementalism — how to draw people toward change and be able to see the power within our ideas, insights and analysis. I’ve found that it’s finding the right combination of shared values, individual aspirations and stretch goals, as well as a bias to action which unlocks the greatest potential.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I adapt to the needs of the team and the moment. The first work of any leader is to set the conditions for success regarding priorities, timelines, resources and expected results. When a team is confident, driving problem solving and delivering strong outcomes, I give them a lot of runway. I’ll shift to an “open door” approach and focus on removing roadblocks, securing resources, and sharing the news of their great work. If a team is struggling, I’ll roll up my sleeves and get in the trenches with them until they’re in a position of strength.
What's the best advice you ever received, and who gave you the advice?
A mentor once shared with me the idea of “leading from any chair in the room,” which comes from the book “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. It underscores the idea that if you’re in the conversation, you have an obligation to invest in the success of the endeavor.
What one new retail technology or trend do you believe will have the biggest impact in 2018, and why?
I believe that RFID is about to cross the threshold of having a huge impact on the retail industry. It’s not a new idea — it’s something the retail industry has been talking about for ages — but we're now in a position to fully leverage it to our advantage. Recent Levi Strauss & Co. research found that an item being out of stock was the most common purchase barrier for consumers in our stores. By activating RFID technology, we can quickly determine if an item is out of stock on our sales floor, as well as improve inventory accuracy and store in-stocks. We’re excited about the impact that this will have on our customers’ experiences, as well as our financial performance.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
Exploring the world with my “boys,” my sons Eli (7) and Aaron (9), and my husband, Eric (“forever young”). Eric and I created a list of all the places we wanted to explore together when our sons were very young, and every year we venture further afield together.