McCall wins award as Tesco storm brews

Guardian boss Carolyn McCall has been named the UK's top businesswoman - but would Tesco still agree?

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Guardian Media Group CEO McCall was named as the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year at the Berkeley Hotel in London on Tuesday night, the 35th woman to take the crown. The panel judges (who included our esteemed editor) selected her ahead of Sanctuary Spa’s Alice Avis, Abbot Mead Vickers boss Cilla Snowball and Divine Chocolate chief Sophi Tranchell.

The award comes as McCall faces one of the biggest challenges of her reign to date. Last Friday, Tesco said it was suing the Guardian for libel and malicious falsehood over a series of articles that appeared in the newspaper in February about its tax affairs. The Guardian accused the retail giant of ‘bilking the public purse’ out of £1bn in corporation tax through a variety of clever offshore structures – but Tesco denies it, insisting that the newspaper has got its facts completely wrong (oh, and ignored five separate attempts to put the record straight). Now it’s claiming millions in special damages, armed with letters from customers who’ve insisted they will never shop at Tesco again (yes, some people obviously do feel that strongly about tax avoidance, even if it is completely legal).

The case would be thorny enough at the best of times for GMG, since (as Tesco was quick to point out) it uses offshore financing structures itself – most recently when it bought some assets off Emap in partnership with buyout firm Apax. But to add even more spice to proceedings, McCall actually sits on the board at Tesco – and it seems a bit hard to see how she can go on picking up her pay cheque from the retailer when it’s in the process of suing her company (if nothing else, it might make for some seriously tense board meetings). So all in all, we’re guessing McCall has had a fairly stressful week.

Still, recent events should take nothing away from her achievement in winning the prestigious Veuve Clicquot award. As well as pulling off the Emap deal, she’s also sold Trader Media Group to Apax to free up some cash, while winning plaudits for her skilful navigation of GMG’s odd structure (the group’s other media and property interests have to generate the revenue to subsidise the loss-making newspaper, but the whole thing is owned by the not-for-profit Scott Trust). And of course, she also has to keep one eye on the Guardian’s powerful editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger. So it’s not exactly a straightforward company to run – hence why we put her on the front cover of MT back in November.

Let’s just hope she can be equally sure-footed when it comes to Tesco...

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