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Who has what it takes to lead retail in 2039?

Retail leaders to watch for in 2039

Twenty-five years from now, shopping will look and feel very different—and those leading retail companies will also need to be different than today's leaders.

By 2039, futurists envision a technology-enhanced shopping experience complete with adaptive storefronts and personalized promotions in-store that sense your preferences. That vision offers a glimpse into the confluence of skills that will be needed to lead a retail organization of the future.

As technology increasingly becomes part of the retail experience, not just online but in the physical store, retail leaders will have to adjust their skills.

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"A retail leader has to be nimble to do the e-commerce piece of it, but the retail piece requires so much laborious people development because you have so many facilities and so many customer-facing people, and trying to find both those skill sets in one head and in one body is very, very challenging," said Thomas Stemberg, managing general partner of Highland Consumer Fund and office-supply chain Staples' founder and former CEO.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon Inc.(L), Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.(C) and Richard Baker, Governor and CEO of HBC (R).
Getty Images (L) | Walmart (C) | Getty Images (R)

Already, there are signs of the sea change, with a number of major players in the search for new leadership, including American Eagle Outfitters, JCPenney and Dollar General.

"The ability to move, to be fast and flexible to bring the organization with you. ... You're going to have to be a master of the technological universe. Certainly of contemporary technology. And you're going to have a truly global perspective, I think," said Paul Charron, former Liz Claiborne CEO and current chairman of the board of Campbell Soup and a director at Escada.

Stemberg and Charron are watching a number of individuals in the retail and fashion world who could become dynamic leaders in the sector in the years to come.

Future Retail Leaders to Watch

Wal-Mart's newly appointed CEO Doug McMillon, Charron said, is a wonderful choice to lead the world's largest retailer, adding, "Wal-mart will be the future, but not the only future [of retail]."

Macy's president Jeff Gennette, Hudson's Bay CEO Richard Baker and Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey are just a few of the retail and fashion leaders who are already changing the industry today, Charron said.

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Charron said he is also watching a number of players at fashion houses and private companies, including Maureen Chiquet, CEO at luxury fashion house Chanel; Tracy Gardner, CEO of teen retailer dELIA's; Neil Blumenthal, founder and co-CEO at eyeglass disruptor Warby Parker; Nathan Bogle and Marcus Wainwright, the founders of premium fashion label Rag & Bone; and Sebastian Suhl, the newly appointed CEO of LVMH's Marc Jacobs brand.

While the above individuals aren't yet households names, Charron said he expects it may only be a period of time until that changes.

Michael Kors' Anna Bakst, who runs the fashion label's footwear and accessories group, is bound to be "running that company or some other one someday," said Stemford, who also named Urban Outfitters' David McCreight and PetSmart's David Lenhardt as retail leaders to watch in the future.

McCreight has served as CEO of Urban Outfitters' successful Anthropologie brand for nearly three years, and prior to that worked at Under Armour, Lands' End and Sears Holdings.

Lenhardt led consulting teams for retail, technology and e-commerce clients while at Bain & Company and has been moving up the ranks at PetSmart since joining them in 2000.

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Both retail veterans recognize Jeff Bezos' influential status for the future of retail, despite Wall Street's waning love affair with the stock.

"If in time Wall Street—as it seems to be beginning to do—says to Amazon, 'Hey, Mr. Bezos, can you start to make some money?' that's going to force them to price more realistically and make it a lot easier for terrestrial retailers going forward," said Stemberg.

—By CNBC's Sabrina Korber and Courtney Reagan