Before the pandemic, if you asked the average person what a furlough was, many would not have been able to define it. To go from asking ourselves, “What is furlough?” to having most retail workers in furlough and seeing shops closed has been tough, but the retail sector is a resilient sector.

Although the retail industry has been deeply affected by Covid, I have been impressed by how companies have been able to react so quickly, and how they were able to pivot during this difficult situation to optimize their online presence and gain new opportunities. It all comes down to your world view – is it the end of retail as we know it, or the start of a great new beginning?


Online sales for retail companies have always been a challenge. In the past, companies would benchmark themselves with competitors asking, “What percentage is this company doing online sales?” and everyone agreed that the biggest business challenge was increasing this percentage. On average, I would say that between 7% - 10% of fashion companies were doing their sales online and now we have gone up to 25% in some industries!

Companies that have been quick to pivot online have been positively affected by the situation because people are not keen on going to shops right now, so even if we felt a strong drop in sales in the beginning, I can say that mitigation has been excellent.

Why? The key is in leadership. During the lockdown in Spain, I attended several conferences, seminars and webinars of CEOs. I was inspired to see how good some of those CEOs were in terms of making decisions, in their communication skills, and most interestingly, in their positivity.

I was impressed by a sector that was threatened to be badly affected by the lockdown, with its ability to minimize the negative effects through excellent leadership capabilities and agile thinking.


Recruitment through these tough times has not stopped, but the focus has certainly shifted. I used to focus heavily on sales or sales oriented / product-oriented positions and these have all turned into back office, IT, finance, and HR recruitment projects.

As companies face serious issues and challenges ahead, they need the right talent to mitigate, improve and perfect processes. What has been common through recruiting in times of crisis, is that there are specific soft skills that companies are looking for, regardless of the position.

Here are the 8 soft skills that companies are looking for in leaders today:

  1. We need quick leaders that make decisions in a very short amount of time.
  2. We need very transparent and communicative people.
  3. Leaders must have a strong balance between being empathetic, but at the same time, being very rational. They must be sensitive to their employees, but at the same time, protect the business and be rational when making decisions.
  4. They must listen to their stakeholders. We must be careful and avoid pressuring suppliers, clients or other stakeholders too much. We are a community, and we need to take care of each other. You never know what situation the other person may be in.
  5. Of course, you must be flexible - flexible minded and flexible in changing plans when you need to.
  6. Of the greatest leaders that I have seen during this pandemic, what really impacted me were the ones that were humble and/or optimistic. It is easy to be optimistic when things are going well, but during times of crisis, your employees are scared, and it is your responsibility to take care of your people. If you transmit pessimism, it ultimately will not be good for them or for your company.
  8. Lastly, we are searching for leaders that have a very high knowledge about data collection. We are being directed towards a very digital world. We're transforming the world of retail and data affects all decision-making today.


I think we have made huge steps compared with what was needed in the past. It’s difficult to predict the future because we haven’t touched ground yet on this pandemic. If we are being realistic, it’s possible that there are many more challenges to come, perhaps even the worst of it is yet to come, but we are prepared for the worst, and we are prepared for when things start to inevitably become better too.

2020 has been a year of change in our organizations.

Those that have taken the time to be prepared, are armed with the right talent will be faster moving in any future crisis. We are making decisions in business and digital transformation now and the retail world will need more strategic leaders.

At the end of all this, we have already made the first steps and we will keep on improving our way of working from now on…it just depends on how you see it.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this article. If you would like to discuss the future of retail further, please feel free to send me an email.

Cristina Rodenas

Cristina Rodenas
Senior Partner, Spain
[email protected]

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