Chico’s CEO, Raymond James Director on How to Succeed in Retail

Written by: Margie Manning at St. Pete Catalyst

In a tumultuous retail landscape, the top executive at women’s clothing company Chico’s FAS Inc. has her own recipe for success.

Shelley Broader, president and CEO of Chico’s, pays attention to customers, not the competition.

“When you focus on what your competition is doing, you’re not focusing on your customers’ wants and needs,” Broader said. “If you focus hard enough on your customer, you make the competition irrelevant, because you will be what your customer needs and wants. You’re competing for their heart and their share of wallet.”

Broader shared lessons learned from her career at a meeting of advocacy organization Women Executive Leadership Sept. 20 at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort in St. Petersburg. Although Chico’s (NYSE: CHS) is headquartered in Fort Myers, she is no stranger to the Tampa Bay area. She previously was president and CEO of Sweetbay Supermarket and she is a member of the board of directors of Raymond James Financial Inc. (NYSE: RJF).

She’s the former president and CEO of Walmart’s EMEA [Europe, Middle East, Sub-Sahara Africa and Canada] region and former president and chief operating officer of arts and crafts retailer Michaels.

Broader started her career as an investment banker before she went to work for one of her clients, global grocery company Delhaize. The company started all its employees working in its stores, so on her first day with Delhaize, Broader was working a cash register when she realized the customer whose groceries she was ringing up was a client she had worked with just a month earlier on a multi-million-dollar debt deal. The client looked shocked and Broader was embarrassed, but later that day, when she told her husband what happened,  he asked whether she thought she was better than the people who held service-industry jobs.

“It was a pivotal moment for me … it led me to see the honorable nobility of those jobs, how incredibly smart and hard-working and talented and driven the people who work in the service industry are,” Broader said.

As Broader advanced at Delahize, she was named to head Kash n’ Karry, a Tampa-based subsidiary that was losing money. She thought she was being sent to Tampa to close the chain.

When she arrived here, she realized Publix Super Markets had a huge hold on the marketplace, but she also saw an opportunity for a fresh food, produce-centered retailer. Delhaize went for the plan, allowing her to write off about $80 million in Kash n’ Karry and invest another $50 million to create the new concept, Sweetbay.

She had opened enough other supermarkets for Delhaize that she was confident she could succeed, she said.

“To have real confidence you have to have competence. Some people don’t want to put in the hard work to get competent at what they do,” Broader said.

Broader left Sweetbay before it was sold to the parent company of Winn-Dixie in 2013. She landed at Chico’s in 2015, where she’s focused on strategy and culture.

“I think culture is strategy. In order to have a strategy-focused organization, you have to have a culture that shares information and empowers people at all levels … I want our culture to be fun, empowering, performance-driven, a flat organization of servant-leaders,” she said. “You have to live and breathe culture to drive strategy.”

With $2.3 billion in 2017 revenue, Chico’s ranks No. 881 on the Fortune 1000 list.

Chico’s also is the top-ranked company on the LedBetter Index, a database that lets users find the leadership gender ratio at top consumer brands and companies. Women make up 56 percent of Chico’s board members and 66 percent within the executive committee.

Broader serves on both the Chico’s and Raymond James boards, and says there’s a role for both mentors and sponsors for other women who are seeking board seats.

“A mentor is someone who teaches you the ropes, and says this is how this business works … Here’s some tips and tricks around things I’ve learned and you might want to try,” Broader said. “A sponsor is someone who talks about you when you are not in the room. When they are talking about who would be best for this position, or who might we want to bring to this client meeting, a sponsor talks about you in a positive light when you are not there.”

It’s OK to ask for sponsorship, although it’s harder to get, Broader said.

“When you sponsor someone, you lend them your reputation,” she said. “Sponsorship can’t be assigned. It has to be earned.”