Vote: Businessperson of the Year 2014, reader’s choice | Retail Edition
UPDATE: The polls have closed. Congrats to Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren, winner of this year’s Businessperson of the Year, reader’s choice — Retail edition. Thanks for voting!
Every year, Fortune selects its Businessperson of the Year, a performer whose vision and leadership puts them heads and shoulders above the rest. Before we reveal this year’s winner on November 13, Fortune would like you, our readers, to pick an MVP from industries like finance, autos, and tech. In today’s installment, Fortune writer Phil Wahba rounds up the retail and consumer sectors’ top execs for 2014. Cast your vote below.
The year has been a tough one for retailers, restaurants and makers of consumer products as, once again, U.S. consumers proved to be frugal in the absence of meaningful wage gains. In July, as it became apparent that consumer spending in the first half of the year was a bust, the National Retail Federation lowered its 2014 forecast. In the weeks that followed, retailers ranging from Family Dollar Stores (FDO) to Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) to J.C. Penney (JCP) sounded pessimistic notes about the rest of 2014, including the holiday season.
But a handful of consumer-facing companies managed to grow in this tough environment, whether by embracing technology, out-executing rivals or quickly adapting to change. The following executives are standouts for their role in helping their companies buck the overall poor trends in the consumer and retail industries.
Terry Lundgren—Macy’s CEO
Macy’s has outperformed rivals J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Sears, and Dillard’s in terms of profit and sales growth under the watch of CEO Terry Lundgren. The department store has been quicker than its competitors in recognizing the importance of integrating its e-commerce and store operations. Macy’s now uses all of its stores help it fill online orders, which ensures fast delivery and protects margins as fewer items end up in the clearance bin. By contrast, Penney and Kohl’s are only now getting around to that approach, and they are scrambling to catch up. This has allowed Macy’s to grab a bigger piece of the growing e-commerce pie, sending its shares to all-time highs earlier this year.
Looking to build on its lead, Macy’s recently announced several new digital initiatives, such as “smart” fitting rooms at its Bloomingdale’s chain. On top of that, the company announced last month that it will open its first ever Macy’s store overseas, in the United Arab Emirates, yet another move that could leave rivals in the dust. And this year, Lundgren appointed a president, Jeff Genette, laying the groundwork for a smooth succession in a few years, a major distinction from the leadership drama seen at Penney, Target, and others.
Richard Dreiling—Dollar General CEO
Despite a tough environment for low income shoppers, Dollar General has managed to post comparable sales gains that have been the envy of the retail industry. On Dreiling’s watch, Dollar General has expanded its product offerings, added thousands of stores (320 new stores this year alone so far, with many more on the way), and raised its profitability (its operating margin was 9.6% last quarter, twice as good as rival Family Dollar, which Dollar General is trying to buy). Dreiling, who became CEO in 2008 and led the company’s IPO the following year, is widely admired for his stewardship of the company, whose sales rose more than 80% to $17.5 billion during his term through Feb 1.
Dreiling announced his retirement last summer but then agreed to delay it indefinitely after Dollar General decided to bid $9.3 billion for Family Dollar in August, giving the CEO a chance at one more blockbuster move before he rides off into the sunset.
Steve Ells and Monty Moran—Chipotle Mexican Grill co-CEOs
The fast-casual chain seems to be unstoppable. In its most recent quarter, sales at Chipotle restaurants open at least 13 months rose by 19.8%, making it the envy of the restaurant industry. The popular burrito chain has for years defied gravity by offering premium organic and natural food, which has earned it the favor of Millennials while older fast-food rivals like McDonald’s have languished. What has made its growth all the more remarkable is that its sales per restaurant keeps rising, even without adding extra staff. Meanwhile, the restaurant operator has been able to raise prices to offset higher meat costs without losing business.
In a move that has earned it further kudos, Chipotle in the last year has cut virtually all genetically modified organisms (GMO) from its food supply. The firm’s shares fell recently when its 2015 sales forecast suggested Chipotle wouldn’t keep its momentum forever. Still, sales growth looks like it will remain several percentage points above those of rivals for years.
Michael Kowalski—Tiffany & Co CEO
So far, in his last full year as CEO, Kowalski has lifted global sales 10%, the result of his efforts in recent years to tap China’s insatiable appetite for Western brands. But more importantly, Kowalski seems to have finally gotten a handle on a problem that has plagued Tiffany for years: tepid U.S. sales of its relatively inexpensive silver jewelry that, despite Tiffany’s luxury aura, account for 25% of sales. That business has improved this year, thanks to Kowalski’s hiring of Francesca Amfitheatrof, Tiffany’s first ever female design director.
This year, Kowalski oversaw a big change in Tiffany & Co’s C-suite, naming a new CFO who has the trust of Wall Street, but also naming his own successor, Frederic Cumenal, who will replace him as CEO in March, putting the seal on a stellar 16-year run.
Fabrizio Freda—Estée Lauder CEO
Luxury cosmetics maker Estée Lauder is handily beating its competition, including L’Oréal and Elizabeth Arden, thanks to its broad portfolio of products and geographic markets, which has inoculated it against any single region’s weakness. Under Fabrizio Freda, Estée Lauder has established itself deep inside China, gaining a first-mover advantage in the region. He has also ramped up R&D spending at the company, giving Estée Lauder an edge in the skin care market, the most competitive and lucrative in the beauty sector. Also on his watch, the company has finally begun to fix a business that had been stumbling for years: fragrance, which is now growing by leaps and bounds. Freda, who has been CEO since 2009, has presided over a nearly 50% rise in revenue and has managed to grow an old, family-owned business.