Why new Tesco chief Dave Lewis 'will be a shock' for the supermarket

The Unilever veteran will be the first Tesco CEO with personality, a source told Management Today.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 25 Jul 2014

In the last couple of decades, Tesco has had a run of ‘grey' CEOs with little personality, but this will all change with the appointment of Unilever veteran Dave Lewis, a former Unilever executive has told us.

‘If you look at MacLaurin, Leahy and Clarke, they’ve all been pretty grey people,’ said the ex senior colleague of Lewis', who asked to remain anonymous. ‘But Dave’s not like that. He’s going to be a bit of a shock to Tesco. He’s probably the first CEO for a long time who’s got a personality. He wears his jeans – if he looks like one of the lads, it’s because he is.’

Unilever veteran Lewis joined the firm in 1987 as a graduate trainee. He helped launch Dove soap in the UK in 1992, and worked his way up the ranks with stints in South America and Indonesia, before returning to the UK in 2005 to become MD of the UK home and personal care business; and later chairman of Unilever UK and Ireland.

During his time as chairman, Lewis oversaw Unilever’s transition from a company with three separate operations – foods, groceries and personal care - into a single unit as part of its One Unilever programme.

When he starts on 1 October this year, he will be the first outsider to run Tesco since founder Jack Cohen began selling groceries on an east London stall in 1919.   

Despite never having run a supermarket before, Lewis is ‘vastly experienced’ in retail operations around the world, said the source, who worked at Unilever for a number of years.  

‘He knows what good looks like, and he’ll help bring that international perspective. Also he’s a down to earth person. He builds real affection in the people who work with him. That will be a huge bonus to Tesco. Retail is at its basic a very simple business. It’s not about making long term technology, like utilities or gas – it’s getting it right today. If you can understand the customers and give them what they want at the right price, you’ll see it,’ the former colleague added.

Read: 6 challenges new Tesco chief Dave Lewis will have to tackle.

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