Retail technology is a traditionally male-dominated industry. But in recent years, women have increasingly emerged as innovators and leaders in retail tech just as strongly as they have in every other sector of the business world.
The sixth annual Chain Store Age “Top 10 Women in Retail Technology” report honors 10 women who are blazing a trail of success that everyone — regardless of gender — would do well to observe and follow.
Senior director, e-commerce operations, Giant Eagle
During a 14-year career at grocery retailer Giant Eagle, Valery Ciarimboli, senior director of e-commerce operations, has served in executive roles in areas that include strategy, financial planning and analysis and real estate. In her current position, Ciarimboli has acted as the catalyst for Giant Eagle’s transformation into a retailer with a robust omnichannel customer experience.
Ciarimboli is responsible for the design, implementation and management of the chain’s “Curbside Express” pickup and delivery stations at more than 70 Giant Eagle stores. She also took the lead in introducing Giant Eagle’s “Scan, Pay and Go” cashierless mobile shopping service, which enables shoppers to scan an item with their smartphone, pay at a kiosk and then simply leave the store with their purchase.
In less than one year following the launch of these omnichannel initiatives, Giant Eagle’s profit rose by more than $2 million. Ciarimboli counts the growth of Curbside Express, which launched in 2017, and its consistently high customer satisfaction scores among her proudest career moments.
“Giant Eagle has a caring, family-like culture,” Ciarimboli said in an interview published on the Giant Eagle website. “Helping the business transform from bricks and mortar to ‘bricks and clicks’ has been really fun!”
Ciarimboli also had some advice for her younger self — advice that female retail professionals of any age could take to heart.
“Go easy on yourself, and be more confident,” she said.
Chief financial/administrative officer, Heinen’s
Working as a professional services consultant is what made Maryann Correnti, chief financial/administrative officer of family-owned grocery store chain Heinen’s, realize retail held an appeal for her.
“When consulting with retail clients, I realized how important IT was for a company to remain competitive and meet the continuously changing expectations of consumers and businesses,” she said. “Technology is critical to grocers who must operate efficiently because of the ‘tiny’ profit margins in the grocery industry.”
At Heinen’s, which operates 23 stores in the Cleveland and Chicago markets, Correnti develops and directs a 70-person team in the areas of finance, IT, risk management and HR. Her IT responsibilities include securing customers’ personal information, personalization and managing online and in-store payments. She also is responsible for maintaining back-end technology infrastructure for functions such as product procurement/payment and financial processes.
The implementation of a complete inventory management system to order, receive and distribute products efficiently to stores ranks as one of Correnti’s notable projects.
“This was a major improvement from previously faxing orders, using clipboards and pencils for selecting and shipping product from our distribution center to stores,” she explained. “The team designing and leading this initiative while working with all stakeholders was key to a successful implementation.”
Correnti recommends that women seeking success in the field of retail technology develop strong skills as both a businessperson and a communicator. She also urges female IT leaders to avoid dreaded “tech speak.”
“Learn how to communicate in understandable business terms so others see the opportunity for new IT strategies for your customers, employees and company,” Correnti said. “Being a leader that who can bridge technical opportunities with business benefits is invaluable.”
CIO, Gap Inc.
As CIO of Gap Inc., Sally Gilligan oversees the technology function, a group that serves as the engine driving retail, e-commerce and global enterprise technology for its customers. She has played an instrumental role in Gap’s ongoing and systematic migration of complex retail and financial systems to the cloud, as well as in connecting front-end and back-end functions for better operations and customer experience.
“In my time as CIO, as an organization we have been focused on a transformation to modernize our legacy systems with a focus on enabling the business,” said Gilligan. “This is grounded in a cloud-based technology transformation and modernized ways of working in a full Dev Ops product model.”
Gilligan is a 16-year Gap veteran. Prior to being named CIO in 2018, she held a variety of executive positions across the company’s supply chain, finance and operations functions. She also spent a decade in the management consulting field.
“I was able to experience many industries and I also had experience in an incubator growing emerging technologies,” Gilligan said. “These experiences and my time transforming the supply chain to be customer-led gave me great insight into the impact technology can have on creating the optimal customer experience. As CIO, the opportunity to lead transformation to enable the business and customer was front and center for me.”
Gilligan advises women seeking leadership roles in retail technology to embrace mentors, sponsors and advocates.
“Each play a different role, and it’s important to understand those differences and find those connections to serve you in different areas of your career,” she said.
“Also, be open to change and new opportunities. I’ve taken a few different leaps of faith in my career where I had to be open to making significant change, but it’s always opened new doors and kept me on a path where I’m growing as a leader and a person.”
VP, supply chain, True Value Company
Lyndsi Lee, VP of supply chain for home improvement retailer True Value Company, has two goals that are paramount to every project she oversees: to focus on the customer and deliver best-in-class capabilities while driving efficiencies.
Recently promoted to her new senior management position, Lee is responsible for the end-to-end supply chain, including global sourcing, vendor selection, forecasting, replenishment and inbound logistics. Her achievements include overseeing a very broad optimization program for True Value’s 80,000-SKU supply chain which recently included adopting a hub-and-spoke distribution model and opening a 1.4-million-sq.-foot regional distribution center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Using advanced algorithms, True Value can anticipate demand to enable a high fill rate with low inventory.
“With 12 distribution centers and more than 4,500 stores, we need the ability to figure out what to sell and where to deploy it, and account for seasonal whipsaws in demand.” said Lee. “We service customers at a rate above 99%, which is unheard of in our distribution space. Our competitors have fill rates at percentages in the mid-90s.”
Lee’s advice for women in the retail IT space is to not only embrace change, but to act as a change agent.
“Fight for a better way of doing things,” she said. “Don’t be a follower; challenge conventional thinking and don’t be afraid of failure. Learn from it.”
VP, enterprise strategy & business development, 1-800-Flowers.com Inc.
1-800-Flowers.com Inc. is a diverse omnichannel retailer with multiple brands across flowers, gourmet food and specialty gifts. Leslie Leifer, VP of enterprise strategy and business development, brings a similarly diverse set of skills to her role at the company.
“I didn’t pick my career, it picked me,” said Leifer, who has been with the company since 2006 and previously spent 10 years in technology and project manager roles at Thomson Reuters. She is also a member of global business community Remodista, serving on their Retail Committee, and was named to the organization’s 2018 “Women2Watch list.
Leifer’s responsibilities include leading Goodsey, a gifts marketplace brand that she and her multi-functional team developed and helped 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. launch in 2018.
“In running Goodsey, my primary responsibility is ensuring every team member has what they need to succeed, such as marketing, creative, user interface, product, recruiting and legal,” she said. “I facilitate what they need to push forward day to day, while also retaining a strategic and holistic view of the business.”
In addition to spearheading the launch of Goodsey, Leifer also took a leading role in building a unified e-commerce platform to support all of the company’s brands which include Harry & David, Cheryl’s Cookies and The Popcorn Factory.
“It was a huge endeavor for the company and for me individually,” she said.
According to Leifer, women working in retail IT need to take control of their own career destinies.
“Don’t get caught up in saying you don’t know how or they won’t let you,” she said. “Stop letting other people create limitations for you. If you want it, you can make anything happen. Stop listening to other voices.
Head of marketing, digital, Vitacost.com, Kroger
Jennifer Palerino, head of digital marketing for Kroger’s digital health-and-wellness brand Vitacost.com, came to retail technology with a winning attitude.
“I have a background as a serious competitive athlete, so I love applying that same drive and will to succeed in business,” she said. “I fell into retail IT by chance, but once that initial door opened, I was totally drawn down this path.”
Looking back on her career, Palerino is especially proud of pitching and creating an entirely new strategy for the digital marketing program at Vitacost.com, where she currently she leads the digital marketing team, including email, affiliate, paid search, display, shopping feeds, retargeting, paid social, push notifications, SMS text and print marketing.
“I restructured the way we operated as far as data exchanges, setting entirely new goals and rethinking the way each of our marketing channels operated to achieve those goals,” she recalled. “The strategy shift resulted in a major positive momentum for our company — increased revenue, customer growth and customer engagement which continues to this day.”
Palerino has won back-to-back awards for innovation marketing from Kroger’s digital marketing platform partner Selligent. Based on her experience, she has some advice to share with other women working in retail IT.
“Work tirelessly to develop your team by helping them hone both their technical and interpersonal skills,” Palerino said. “Also test, test and test some more. But don’t just run tests to run them — know what your end goal is, and how you’ll implement the results in the future.”
Her final piece of advice is more internally focused.
“Go get it!” Palerino said. “Don’t expect career growth to just happen or to fall into your lap. Learn and educate yourself, know what you want to go after so you can go get it!”
Chief Customer Officer, Lands’ End
Retail has always been a part of the life of Sarah Rasmusen, chief customer officer of apparel retailer Lands’ End.
“My first job in high school was at a Mervyn’s department store and all through college I worked at a boutique,” she said. “I was probably the only person in engineering school with a Vogue subscription!”
Although Rasmusen has been a catalyst in many successful projects in a career that has also featured executive roles at retailers including Kohl’s and Saks, her proudest accomplishment is her most recent — getting promoted in June 2019 to chief customer officer for Lands’ End.
“Lands’ End has provided amazing customer service for the last 50 years — service that has become legendary,” she said. “It is not lost on me that no matter what cool tech development comes along, I must not lose sight that I’m now in charge of protecting Lands’ End’s most precious asset — its customer.”
Rasmusen’s responsibilities include leading all customer experiences including core, retail, business-to-business and international, as well as driving strategies to enhance customer-facing capabilities across all Lands’ End selling channels.
Rasmusen urges fellow women working in the retail IT industry to not let their focus on technology obscure the importance of a skill like communication in dealing with colleagues across different departments.
“I loathe making a deck more than anyone, but I know that it’s forced me to hone my message and focus on what’s important,” she said. “I would happily spend my time in the weeds with tech teams. But building and practicing elevator talks have proven crucial to my career, especially with cross-functional leaders and teams.”
VP, technology, Zulily
For Bindu Thota, working in retail technology is a highly personal endeavor.
“Zulily does e-commerce differently,” Thota said. “It’s curation and storytelling, art and science, technology and humans. As a place to work, it’s very interesting.”
Thota arrived at Zulily in 2014 following a lengthy technology career that included close to 20 years at Microsoft as a senior development manager and principal program manager.
“I wanted to be closer to customers and experience what they do,” she said. “E-commerce was fascinating at that time.”
Thota still finds her role at Zulily, a billion-plus-dollar online specialty retailer where she leads a team of more than 60 engineers and product managers, fascinating, with people a big part of the reason.
“My biggest responsibility is working with merchandisers, vendor operations and other tech teams,” she said. “I have a view that ties everyone together, whether it is non-tech teams to tech teams or one tech team to another.”
Thota advises other women who are pursuing or considering a career in retail IT to make their voice heard, something she has always done.
“You don’t need to be loud,” she said. “You need to be effective and present. Know now what you’re talking about and what you’re doing — why, how and who for. Once you have that clarity, you can make yourself heard.”
Thota applies that clarity to her own success as one of the top women executives in retail IT today.
“This is an exciting time to be in the retail technology space and to serve as an example as a woman in leadership role,” she stated. “I get to serve as a mentor and coach to both women and men. I’ve been given a good opportunity.”
CIO, Wakefern Food Corp.
As a nearly 25-year veteran of Wakefern Food Corp., Cheryl Williams has long focused on leveraging technology to improve the customer experience.
“From our phones to our computers, and from our warehouses to our retail stores, technology is key, and it’s important that the division stays leading-edge,” Williams said in an interview with Path to Purchase Institute.
Williams began her Wakefern career in 1996 as manager of retail systems, assuming her current position as CIO in 2016. At Wakefern, a retailer-owned cooperative whose members individually own and operate more than 260 supermarkets under the ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer banners, Williams oversees a multi-million dollar annual budget and manages more than 300 employees.
She also collaborates with all of the cooperative’s supermarkets to improve their technology. Every store has roughly 35,000 to 40,000 SKUs, but as independently operated stores, each location features an individual assortment with unique pricing and promotions.
Notable technology projects Williams has overseen at Wakefern include leading the launches the first ShopRite mobile app and the “ShopRite from Home” online pickup and delivery service. She was also instrumental in building the first iteration of Wakefern’s data warehouse and e-commerce site, which led to her being tapped to launch a new marketing department as VP of marketing.
In the Path to Purchase Institute interview, Williams said women in retail IT should believe in themselves and their goals rather than give in to naysayers.
“The advice I give people is work hard and don’t be dissuaded by people who will tell you (that) you can’t do it,” she stated. “A lot of people will try to take you off course. Go down your path and do what you want to do.”
CEO, Bamboo Rose
Sue Welch is hardly a newcomer when it comes to being an innovator in the retail technology space.
“I raised my first million from venture capital in 1987,” recalled Welch. “I sent a business plan to 25 venture capital firms and 24 responded. That seemed like a really good response rate till I realized a lot of them responded because they had never received a plan from a woman before and were curious.”
Welch is CEO of Bamboo Rose, an online marketplace she founded in 2001 that enables retailers to shop for products from virtual supplier showrooms in the same way consumers shop e-commerce marketplaces. She has a long career history of thinking outside the box to solve retail problems.
“I got into retail IT out of desperation,” she said. “I was a retail buyer and became head of sourcing at a multimillion dollar retailer. I kept trying to be more efficient, but we couldn’t scale the technology. There was no commercially available retail sourcing/buying solution on the market, so we developed one internally.”
Welch went on to develop a similar proprietary solution at her next role with an offshore manufacturer, and then founded her first company, IMC, a vendor of software to track and trace imported private- brand products from the warehouse to the store. IMC provided the first retail business software for PC users.
Welch encourages women pursuing a career in IT to use their female perspective to their advantage.
“They should maintain their social/visual/community technology focus instead of adopting the traditional end-user case focus held by so many men,” Welch said.
She takes pride in the fact 33% of Bamboo Rose’s executives and 40% of its board members are female.
“Those are amazing stats in retail technology,” she noted. “We are working toward a 50/50 ratio, but it’s a good start.”