Business & Leadership

Ten Innovators from Traditional Industries

Innovation isn’t the preserve of tech companies or startups. From luxury product makers to hotels, automobile manufacturers to department store chains, Leaders League has identified ten leaders from the so-called “traditional industries,” whose innovative actions provide great inspiration to all of us.

Innovation isn’t the preserve of tech companies or startups. From luxury product makers to hotels, automobile manufacturers to department store chains, Leaders League has identified ten leaders from the so-called “traditional industries,” whose innovative actions provide great inspiration to all of us.

Pablo Isla


*World’s 3rd best-performing CEO by the Harvard Business Review, 2015

*Installed numerous fully-automated garment storage and retrieval systems

*Inditex generated 15,000 jobs worldwide in 2015

The son of a versatile executive, Isla spent years in various industries and has an acute sense for business. As the pioneer in fast-fashion industry, Inditex is well-known for its logistics system and short product cycle. Isla’s strategies led Inditex to invest $1.7 million in new technologies in order to improve their logistics service and supply chain, focusing on automation to create time-saving dispatches and to catch up with rapid international expansion.

Isla also launched the Global Water Management Strategy to secure the sustainability of water as a resource, cooperating with suppliers which endorsed the strategy. He also launched the Roba Amig program to donate garments to those in need, and created the ZNormativa model to further improve Inditex’s waste management.



Gill Pratt


*Gill Pratt holds Doctorates in Philosophy, Electrical Engineering and Computer

*Science from MIT, Associate Professor and Director of MIT’s Leg Lab

*Former Program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

This former associate professor at Franklin W. Olin College has an impressive track record. He is the man Toyota has recently chosen to lead the brand new Toyota Research Institute, in Palo Alto. Dr. Pratt focuses his activity in the field of robotics and intelligent systems. Funded by an initial five-year, $1 billion investment, the TRI has been created with the aim of enhancing the safety of automobiles. But this ambitious project seems keen to do more than make cars smarter and safer, and the TRI’s development is crucial, as pointed out by its CEO: “We believe we can significantly improve the quality oflife for all people, regardless of age, with mobility products in all aspectsof life” as an ultimate aim is also to use AI to aid seniors with both in and outdoor mobility.



Peter Agnefjäll


Worked as the assistant of founder Ingvar Kamprad and former CEO Mikael Ohlsson

IKEA has committed 1 billion Euro for climate action under his leadership

Launched “Growing IKEA Together – 2020” strategy

Growing up in a family that ran a supermarket, Peter Agnefjäll steered his passion towards retail, entering IKEA as a trainee and having since spent most of his career in the company. As the CEO of this firm with strong internal culture, Agnefjäll puts emphasis on the continuous growth of existing stores, and thus develops the strategy “Growing IKEA Together – 2020”, inviting employees to figure out ways to improve products and shopping experiences.

What’s more, under Agnefjäll’s leadership, IKEA is transferring from a furniture store to a corporate that is dedicated to environmental issues and future solutions. Space 10, the lab IKEA launched in 2015 in Denmark, focuses on finding solutions to improve future urban quality of life. IKEA also plays an active role in renewable energies. It owns 700,000 PV solar panels and 314 off-sign wind turbines, and it invested 600 million Euros in renewable energy in 2015. “It can bring exciting opportunitiesfor innovation and growth for us andour partners,” Agnefjäll stated in the company’s annual report.

So far Agnefjäll has successfully upheld IKEA’s leading role in furniture retailing, and initiated a great number of opportunities for corporate sustainability, both in product innovation and IKEA’s active position in corporate social responsibility. An example of the latter is the company’s union with Indian social entrepreneurs to secure jobs for rural women. In ways such as these Peter Agnefjäll is leading IKEA’s spirit to “create a better everyday life for the manypeople”, to this decade and beyond.




Simon Gresham Jones

Global Vice President Digital Marketing, BURBERRY

*60%+ of Burberry’s marketing budget is aimed at digital

*Grasham Jones previously worked for Microsoft’s Xbox division, Disney and Universal Music

Like it or not, luxury and tech industries are becoming increasingly interlinked. For example, Burberry’s former CEO Angela Ahrendts hopped to Apple to lead retail and online stores, while its first (and current) head of digital marketing, Simon Gresham Jones, emigrated from Microsoft. In 2009 he led the clothing brand’s launch of its own social media site, Art of the Trench, which attracted over 200,000 unique users during first week. His initiatives continue: introduction of Burberry Kisses, partnerships with Apple and WeChat reinforcing the fashion show experience with the interplay of digital, physical, social and mobile, setting the bar for how luxury brands can fully utilize technology.




David Beebe

VP Global Creative + Content Marketing, MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL

*An Emmy-winning executive & producer

*Leads the creative direction and content marketing strategy for Marriott’s portfolio of 19 brands

*Founded Disney-ABC Television Group Digital Studio

For traditional hotels used to providing predictable, standard services, no matter where and when, addressing how to attract and engage millennials searching for intimate and personalized experiences meant the mode of conversation needed change.

In September 2014, Marriott launched its own Digital Content Studio, overseen by Beebe, to explore the concept of travel with consumers using attention-grabbing content: short films (including Two Bellmen and French Kiss, which have respectively garnered over 5 and 6 million views on YouTube), music videos, TV series and interactive stories on Snapchat.

And efforts have paid off: Fast Company just named Marriot among 2016 Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Travel.



Reed Hastings

Founder & CEO, NETFLIX

*Board member of Facebook, and on the board of Microsoft from 2007 to 2012

*Former member of the California State Board of Education

Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, the man who has changed how people consume television, inventor of the term “binge watching”, has taken bold steps forward to achieve the launch of a company that offers its service to nearly every country around the world, save China. His business model is based on a perfect combination of marketing, technology, and content, but mostly the intuition that we live in an on-demand world, where almost everything can be instantly chosen and quickly personalized. This huge Netflix market penetration is giving the best storytellers the opportunity to reach audiences in every corner of the world, and thus creating the possibility of building connections between distant cultures.



Mauro Moretti


*President of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD)

*Co-Chairman of the Italy-Japan Business Group

*Honorary Degree in Mechanical Engineering, University of Cassino

A new era has begun for the Italian aeronautics industry – the Moretti era. Mauro Moretti, former CEO of Trenitalia, the primary train operator in Italy, led the company to first-time consolidated profits, as well as ambitious projects, such as the launch of Frecciarossa, the Italian high-speed train. At the head of Finmeccanica since 2015, this electronics engineer has focused his activity on the company’s restructuring and transformation, concentrating all the core business of aerospace, defense, and security into a single company. Research and development account for around 11% of the company’s revenue, and in 2014, over 1.5 billion Euros were invested in R&D. On a visionary path, Moretti also sees a great future for drones, helicopters and unmanned airplanes.



Eric Hughes

Vice President, Omnichannel Process & Systems, MACY’S

In order to be more prepared for the fierce competition in online retailing, Hughes and his team designed the “omnichannel system” to align Macy’s online and physical stores and let customers know the exact in-store inventory and location.



Ajay Bhalla

President of Enterprise Security Solutions, MASTERCARD

In addition to ensuring the security of 51 million transactions annually, Bhalla has also led the creation of the MasterCard DigiSec Lab, which combines biometric technology with online payment security measures to deter fraud and false declines.



Zhang Ruimin

Founder, CEO & Chairman, HAIER GROUP

As the only Chinese entrepreneur who won two Thinkers50 honors, Zhang showed his concern for innovation by founding Haier’s open online platform HOPE, which encourages close interaction and open-cooperation for ideas from all over the world.




The list comes from our selection of leaders for the 2016 Innovation, Technology & IP Report. Follow us for our 2017 edition or contact us if you have propositions!


This article also apprears in our monthly newsletter “Leaders Wisdom Journal”. To Subscribe.


Other articles of the same issue:

Thomas Rabe (Bertelsmann): "Innovation is not a question of a company’s size. It’s a question of its freedom."

Learn from Kanye West on Pushing Boundaries

How would you Move Mount Fuji?

Wisdom on Pushing Limits

The Beauty of Being a Misfit by Lidia Yuknavitch (TED Video)


Accenture's CEO and CFO interview by Leaders League Group

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