President George W. Bush gives NRF Big Show 2014 Keynote Address

A crowd of over 5,000 packed into the Javits Center’s North Hall to hear President George W. Bush give the keynote address at the 103rd annual Big Show. Topics ranged from his initial reactions following September 11th and how that event shaped the type of President he would become, the first time he ever met Vladimir Putin’s “piercing blue eyes,” his decision to create TARP in light of the housing bubble, and how great it felt to be back on Air Force One as he joined President Obama on a trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

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Touching occasionally on the world of retail, touting his memoirs in the process (available on Amazon), the former President did have a great overarching message that reinforces what we have been hearing of far at NRF 2014 – executives need to be leading their organizations into the future.

President Bush reinforced this concept when he talked about his first few months in office. He realized that it would be to his benefit, and the benefit of the country, if he got the smartest and most experienced people to surround himself with to help shape how he was going to lead.

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“When you are the leader of the country, or a leader of a company, you have to have a strategy and vision,” he said. “By reaching out I learned that you can learn a lot by listening to someone else. It mattered when it came time to find common ground.”

The insight gained from those he chose to surround himself with allowed him to make more informed and confident decisions during his presidency. What’s more, he realized you do not have to sell your soul in order to achieve this.

In our coverage of Foot Locker CEO Ken Hicks’ keynote session we noted that retail is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50. CEOs are going to be critical in leading retail companies through this change, testing new solutions, finding new ways to create a positive consumer experience, and most importantly, not rely on what worked in the past to help shape the future.

Just as President Bush is enjoying creating the next chapter in his life post-presidency – a period which his wife Laura playfully refers to as the “after life” – retail CEOs need to look to new ways of conducting business to remain viable in the changing retail landscape.