Interview – Roger Beahm, Executive Director – Center for Retail Innovation, Wake Forest University


Roger Beahm

Roger Beahm, Executive Director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University brings a
wealth of both experiential and academic experience to this year’s Elevator Competition. With the focus of this year’s competition on Retail Innovation, we have asked Roger some questions that may give some additional insights into what this year’s competition will look like and what our contestants can expect. Enjoy!

Roger, you have had some great accomplishments during your career in the private sector, both as a marketer and advertiser and as a business owner. What are your current passions, what motivates and drives you at this time in your career?

The number one thing that drives me is to “give back” at this time in my career. I spent nearly 40 years in business, and much of the time it felt like I was in it “for me”.  Of course, I provided for my family, helped my employers as well as my own employees when I had my company. But at some point you realize there is something more that just focusing on your own career. Now that my family is grown and have 9 grandchildren, I feel being here at Wake Forest, working with the next generation of industry leaders, and sharing some of the knowledge and insights of this career in marketing is something that is highly motivating and very rewarding..

In your own words, how would you define retail innovation?

Retail Innovation is coming up with new and better ways of delivering value to the consumer through the marketplace – whether that happens to be through “bricks and mortar or through digital.  It’s obvious to all of us as shoppers – the retail marketplace is evolving faster than ever   Innovation is at the core of that evolution.


The Elevator Competition has received a little bit of a face lift this year. What has been your role in shifting this year’s focus of the Elevator Competition to retail innovation?

My role has just been to help the students who put on this outstanding event this year focus on areas that can increase interest in participating among other schools, and bring value to the area of retail innovation at the same time. We also helped focus the theme of the innovations being presented on retail marketing.  This sharper focus gives teams an opportunity to compete on a more level playing field.

What focus or technology within the broad category of retail innovation do you see as the most exciting/most disruptive capabilities?

A,G. Lafley, former CEO of the company I first went to work for, Procter & Gamble, said, “The first moment of truth is when the consumer is confronted with your product and makes the decision to buy or not.”  Innovations that help drive this purchase decision  are the ones that are, to me, the most exciting and the most disruptive.  Any innovation that can prompt this consumer decision is going to be exceptionally valuable.


So far, Wake Forest University’s Elevator Competition has received quite a few letters of intent from top MBA programs. What advice or imparting words of wisdom can you give to possible applicants as they prepare ideas centered on retail innovation?

Think about Wayne Gretzky.. Why was he such a great hockey player? Because of his attitude to the game, “I don’t skate to where the puck is … I skate to where the puck is going.” The key to success in this competition is not to focus on where retail is today – and what the immediate needs are next year.  Manufacturers, retailers and channel partners are already well beyond that. The key is to think about where retail will be in the year 2020, or better yet where it could be.  Work toward those long-term visions. If you do that, you’ll be much more successful. If you focus on today, you’re already behind.


The Wake Forest University full-time MBA student-run team is putting quite a bit of effort into the Elevator Competition weekend. Can you shed some light on what the Retail Innovation Conference, held the day before the Elevator Competition, will be about and what students and sponsors can expect?

The day before the competition is meant to be a more industry-facing day. The Elevator Competition is for students, and it is run by students. The Retail Innovation Conference held the day before is meant to provide a venue where industry can come and participate, since they can’t pitch for the elevator competition.

Friday starts with a “cloud computing boot camp” on Friday morning, hosted by Inmar at our Wake Forest Charlotte Center. Cloud computing is a high visibility area today and is become more and more important in retail marketing. In fact, the cover of a recent issue of Advertising Age even pictures “The Marketing Cloud.” Big data is going into the marketing cloud. How are we going to use that in retail marketing?  Industry CIO’s, IT management, and marketing management will have an opportunity to learn through this educational activity.

After lunch we will have a dialogue between John Ross, the President of Inmar Analytics, and Britt Beemer, founder of ARG, a highly-respected consumer research and behavioral marketing group.  The two of them will discuss the future of retail – both short and long term.

Finally, we will end the day with a reception and dinner hosted by PepsiCo, and hear from John Phillips, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain & Logistics for Pepsico. He will speak on the topic, “Future Value Chain 2020”, which describes what the retail environment will look like by the end of this decade.  As you can see, Friday is a full day of activity preceding the Elevator Competition.

What do you see as the role of students with regard to the future of retail world and specifically retail innovation?  Namely, how do you think the Retail Innovation Challenge will impact the role of students?

I believe we are going to see more students becoming interested in careers in retail marketing. This competition will impact the way students think “deeply” about retail marketing – the data, the analytics, the strategies, the tactics and the impact all become more interesting.  Big data has allowed retail marketing to become much more analytical than it once was.   It used to focus on creativity and intuition.  Today, the company that has the data, analyzes it, extracts the business intelligence, and makes the better decision will more likely be the “winner.”  Students are interested in this aspect of marketing more than ever.  And by the way, so is industry!

In addition to the prize money, what are one or two other reasons for students to be involved in this year’s Elevator Competition?

There are at least three reasons students should get involved:  First is for the education.  Participating in this event means students will learn through the experience.  A second reason is networking.  The competition will draw industry executives interested in hiring tomorrow’s future leaders.  Meeting them at the competition will be a great benefit.  Finally, it’s going to be fun.  I’ve been involved in these competitions for the past 5 years, and can tell you the weekend is very, very enjoyable.



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