If I were the new chief executive of Tesco and had just learnt my profits were overstated by £250m, that the regulator was investigating and that I had lost the confidence of the world’s best-known investor, my first instinct would be to nail my accountants, shareholder-relations staff and PR people to their desks until they had sorted it out. I would not be urging them to don a smock or a hairnet and head for the front line.
Apparently size matters in assessing business culture. The latest Populus opinion poll for the FT says 61 per cent of British voters want the party that wins the next election to be tougher on “big business”.
This result raises all sorts of questions – and not only for the political parties, which appear to be drawing up the battle-lines over how to treat business. With British elections one year away, it underlines, for example, that companies need to recalibrate their strategies to deal with political risk on the home front. It also makes me wonder how British people, let alone their elected representatives, define “big business”. Read more
Horsemeat scandal leaves severe cracks in Tesco's reputation. Getty Images
Tesco has defined the limit of mutual responsibility for supply chains. Having inquired into the provenance of beefburgers that contained horsemeat, it has dumped Silvercrest, its supplier of frozen burgers, essentially for deviating from the list of Tesco-approved meat suppliers.
“The breach of trust is simply too great,” said Tim Smith, the UK retailer’s technical director, in a statement. (The owner and founder of Silvercrest’s parent told the FT earlier this month it had been “let down” by its own suppliers.) Read more
No corporate activity is as dispiriting, as futile, or, unfortunately, as common as blame-shifting. The tawdry process is familiar to anyone who has worked in business. However, the temptation to lay blame first and ask questions later is greatest at big companies with their web of complex, global suppliers.
There is no need to ask who will be to blame if and when Tesco’s US adventure is brought to an end. Sir Terry Leahy, ex-chief executive of the UK retailer, has already admitted it will be him.
The Fresh & Easy venture comes under “Courage” in Sir Terry’s book Management in 10 Words, published earlier this year. In the book, he called the investment in the new brand “a calculated risk” and pointed out that “even if the entire investment ultimately had to be written off, it would not threaten Tesco’s underlying viability”.
He reiterated that he was “certain that Fresh & Easy [would] be a success”, well-placed to benefit from economic tailwinds “thanks largely to the courageous people who stepped forward to turn an ambition into a reality”. Read more
Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager, says he wants to know “how the fans smell”: he walks the arena during the star’s show to get a sense of how they’re receiving the act. Phil Clarke, chief executive of Tesco, has set in motion a retraining scheme for the UK retailer’s managers called “Making Moments Matter”, preparing them for face-to-face contact with customers.
Yet both men work for organisations (if Gaga can be described that way) that have also pioneered the use of technology – the Little Monsters Gaga fan site, the Tesco loyalty ClubCard – that helps them know their customers and run their businesses more efficiently.
The mixed approach they advocate illustrates a theme that emerged strongly from this week’s FT Innovate conference, where both men spoke: how to put the personal touch back in technology? Or, as Aimie Chapple of Accenture summarised at one roundtable session: how do you add the love to Big Data? Read more
I wonder what Sir Terry Leahy, former chief executive of Tesco, makes of the fanfare about rival UK retailer Marks and Spencer launching a bank with HSBC. According to Marc Bolland, M&S boss, the rationale for putting 50 bank branches inside its stores goes as follows:
This bank will be built on M&S values; putting the customer at the heart of the proposition and delivering the exceptional service that sets us apart from the competition.
I asked Sir Terry Leahy to bring to his video interview with me this week – his last as Tesco’s chief executive – an object or picture that represented a “personal turning point” for him. My heart dropped when word came back from the supermarket chain’s HQ that he’d be bringing a Clubcard.
Sure, this sliver of plastic tells the retail group more about shoppers’ preferences and habits than any opinion poll ever could. But we know what the discount-voucher card tells Leahy about us; would it tell us anything about Leahy? Read more