The news that Ryan McDonnell will replace Christian Härtnagel as boss of Lidl GB will have come as no great shock to anyone familiar with the retailer’s recruitment strategy.
Lidl almost always looks to promote from within, invariably handing top jobs to high fliers that have been with the business for much if not all of their careers and have gained experience across a range of functions and international markets.
McDonnell’s predecessor, Christian Härtnagel who is leaving to run the discounter’s German business, joined Lidl at the age of 21 before being named UK boss at 34. Prior to Härtnagel, Ronny Gottschlich had spent his entire career at Lidl before becoming UK boss in 2010.
McDonnell’s career has followed a similar pattern. He joined Lidl Ireland as a junior buyer back in 2000 and worked his way up through buying roles to become commercial director of the Irish business in 2005. He moved to Lidl GB in the role of chief commercial officer in 2015 and was promoted to deputy chief executive earlier this year.
McDonnell is a rounded retailer and a particularly strong commercial operator – there’s no reason to think he won’t make a success of the role. Indeed, it’s hard to argue Lidl’s GB recruitment strategy hasn’t borne fruit such has been the discount grocer’s consistent sales growth and store expansion over a long period of time.
Yet I just wonder if there will become a point where Lidl has to look outside the business for senior talent? I’ve been critical of John Lewis Partnership in the past for being too insular in its recruitment strategy, something the retailer has more recently started to address through external appointments.
Every retailer I speak to at the moment is going through a period of rapid change. Even a business with as tried and tested a business model as Lidl needs to move with the times. This does sometimes require an input of fresh ideas.
The best CEOs tend to wear the scars of their experiences as a badge of honour, having worked for a range of organisations where they’ve had to solve complex challenges and deal with different cultures.
I feel businesses work best on the 80/20 principle where 80% of new roles are filled internally and 20% from outside the business. This ensures a nice balance of people who know the business culture and operational model inside out and those who bring an open mind and fresh perspectives.
A business model like Lidl’s may be notably different from the vast majority of UK retailers but models can be learned; sometimes you need that voice from outside the business challenging the status quo.
None of this is to suggest that McDonnell won’t make a success of his role, nor that Lidl has got the appointment wrong. Aldi has also delivered stunning results with a model that similarly favours home grown talent, although it does also recruit externally.
It’s more a reflection that what’s worked in the past won’t necessarily continue to work in perpetuity, however well-oiled the retail machine.