Tesco's new boss reports 'lack of morale' at the company

Dave Lewis described first week as CEO as a 'rollercoaster'. Which is surely more diplomatic than calling it a haunted house.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 23 Sep 2014

Tesco's new CEO Dave Lewis has completed his first week at the helm of the troubled retail giant. His major observation has been a lack of morale among the team. He's also aware he'll need to make some 'difficult calls', including instigating management changes, in order to return the company to its 'core values'.

Apparently that doesn't mean ditching its vast global network of shiny supermarkets in order to focus on a bunch of fruit and veg stalls at a market. Rather it entails a renewed focus on price, availability and service. Lewis believes a return to these principles will inspire customers to reward Tesco with their loyalty. It's hardly rocket science – which naturally leads to the question of how it's possible to forget that in the first place.

Still, such is the way of global business, and Tesco has just issued its third profit warning of 2014, prompting Lewis to leap into the hot-seat a month early. To rub salt to the wounds, Tesco's seventh-largest shareholder, US investment fund Harris Associates, chose the preceding weekend to announce it was cutting its holding in the company by two-thirds. So Lewis arrived, after 27 years at Unilever, with a vow to 'keep it simple' (and the open admission that he's never run a shop before). The share price dropped 2% that first day.

Sales have been steadily falling for a while, thanks in part to the success of discount chains like Aldi and Lidl in responding to households' shrinking budgets. Lewis has gone down the only road open to him: seeing all this not as a problem but as an 'opportunity', with a vow to 'spend some time listening, spend some time learning and observing from colleagues what they think we could be doing'. This is a sensible approach, at least certainly wiser than bowling in barking orders at people only to invite the obvious response of: 'What do you know about running a shop, soap-bubble boy?'.

As to whether he's doing all that listening and learning while casually tapping away at the top of a hornets' nest, only time will tell. Perhaps he'll be putting in a call to Richard Pennycook, who has now been named permanent CEO of Co-op, having initially taken the job temporarily following the departure of Euan Sutherland in March.

If he's prepared to stay on after six months running Co-op, then he must know a thing or two about keeping your lunch down while you're riding a rollercoaster.

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