Recap: Global Retailing Conference 2019

For the past 23 years, the Global Retailing Conference has taken place in Tucson, Arizona, bringing CEOs and other leaders in the retail industry to the main stage. Students and retail enthusiasts alike are able to come in and listen to the advice and interactive presentations these professionals have put together. Students here at the University of Arizona are strongly encouraged to attend, as this is an opportunity to network and listen to expert advice that will help us in our future endeavors. This week, we’ve decided to share with you our biggest takeaways from our time at the 2019 Global Retailing Conference.


1. Technology is King

It’s no secret that technology has made its way to the forefront of the retail industry, which is why tech development was a major focus of this year’s GRC. The conversation of brick and mortar stores’ longevity has become a recent topic discussion within the retail industry, as consumers have started gearing their shopping habits toward e-commerce. 

Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, emphasized the power of technology in the modern world of retail. With the rise of companies like Amazon, Walmart has found itself in some deep water. They have recently worked to incorporate technology and convenience into their company in order to remain competitive. They’ve adopted initiatives such as their new curbside pickup to draw in customers who prefer to skip the lines and small-talk interactions at checkout. The development of new apps and ideas, such as this one, permit companies like Walmart to keep up in the constantly changing world of retail. 

Billie Whitehouse is the CEO and Founder of Wearable X, and she is using technology to redefine the world of fashion. Unlike Doug McMillon and Walmart, Whitehouse is using design technology to physically build a unique fashion tech brand. They are using new apparel technology to create fabrics that have never been seen, and ones that are conducive to any lifestyle. Without the emergence of new technology, Whitehouse would not have had the opportunity to build such a strong and specialized brand. 

2. Make Yourself Known

I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with Terry J. Lundgren, former CEO of Macy’s and proud Arizona Alumni, for his annual Terry Talk here at the Retailing Center. One of the greatest pieces of advice I took away from my time with Terry is to put yourself out there and make yourself known. This sounds a bit repetitive and everyone is probably reading this saying to themselves ‘I get it! I already do that!’ But for someone like me, this was really important to hear from someone in such a powerful position considering I often second guess myself in these situations. 

Terry emphasized the importance of simply introducing yourself to people. This is far more than most people do, so allowing recruiters or CEOs to associate a name with a face  gives you a leg up in the future, as they’re far more likely to remember you. Going beyond just introducing yourself, always send a thank you so they know that you’re interested and appreciative of their time. The more you put yourself out there and communicate your interest in the company, the greater advantage you have down the road. It’s human nature to want to help people who care and show interest, so do your future self a favor by making yourself known now. 

3. Work Hard

Not one speaker from the conference went up on stage and talked about how little work they had to put in to get to where they are today. That’s because each of them had to put insane amounts of time and effort to their careers in order to climb the ladder.

“Hustle” was probably the most-used word at the conference — at least from the speakers I had the pleasure of hearing. They all stressed that their success did not come easily; in fact, it took years of non-stop work and dedication. Now, this probably seems like a pretty straightforward tip as well, but it’s not as simple as most people make it out to be. Many people give up on their project after getting halfway through, as they’re about to cross the finish line, or even before starting for that matter. Having the sticktoitiveness to power through the many hardships along the road to success is a challenge many people are not able to overcome. 

Not only is it difficult to do your dream job at times, but it’s difficult to push through and do jobs that you don’t enjoy before landing a spot in your ideal position. Terry Lundgren talked about the fact that you will have to do many menial and unwanted jobs throughout your journey to the top. Just because it’s not where you want to end up, does not mean you shouldn’t use it as a stepping stone to propel you to where you want to go next. Don’t just show up to these jobs to do the bare minimum; show up and stand out! 

4. Do What Needs to be Done

Every CEO has made some difficult decisions throughout their time in office. Whether this relates to job cuts, the closing of stores, or the complete rebranding of a company, they are the ones that have to be strong-willed and make the big decisions. 

Doing what needs to be done despite the consequences was a major theme I picked up on from each of the CEOs I listened to. Terry Lundgren shared a short anecdote about his time as the CEO of Macy’s, in which he completely changed the name of the company to Macy’s. At the time, people rioted against him and were completely distraught by the name change; however, he knew that his decision was best for the future of the company. Now, Macy’s is a household name and many of us could not picture it being called anything else, so his decision was, in fact, the correct one. Even if he could not be completely sure of it at the time, he had to trust his own intuition and do what needed to be done, in spite of the backlash that was bound to come. Once you make a decision that you think is right, stick to it and deal with the aftermath later. 

5. Take Notes From Your Peers

Many of the presentations were interactive and got us talking with our peers and other attendees. We shared stories and tips of how we landed interviews, jobs, and other professional opportunities. While it was so beneficial to hear these executives speak about their success, it was almost refreshing to hear from people my age who are defining their own terms of success. 

While CEOs, recruiters, and professionals sometimes feel out of reach, we forget that we are constantly surrounded by people who have landed incredible opportunities. The greatest learning mechanism is other people your age who are trying to achieve similar things as you. Take time to ask questions and take notes from your peers, because they often have some of the best advice that you can readily apply to your own experiences.

Written and Edited by: Kami Strander

Insight Provided by: Mika Legaspi and Kami Strander

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