Simon English: Home Retail chief needs a whiz to revitalise Argos

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The Independent Online

The jibes from the City scribblers were fierce. Argos is little more than "a showroom for Amazon," quips Rahul Sharma of Neev Capital. "There's a growing chance of a "Woolworth-esque decline," jabs David Jeary at Investec.

How much of this sort of thing can a chief executive take?

Terry Duddy, the boss of Argos parent Home Retail Group, insists he isn't calling uncle yet. Investors, most notably the largest shareholder Schroders, are supportive. Even if this is true, there's no doubt their patience is being tested. The latest sales figures are awful. They can't keep falling at 9 per cent, Mr Duddy agrees, if he is going to keep his job.

A top priority is getting a new managing director for Argos, if only to shoulder some of the blame.

Mr Duddy is overworked, and it is possible to detect the strain down the phone line. "Can I just get back to running the business?" he asked. Well, can he? He insists the company is positioned for the future, with soaring internet sales and an iPhone app.

Still, Argos looks and feels old-fashioned. As if Mr Duddy didn't move quickly enough when it mattered and is now struggling to play catch-up. Perhaps the harsh truth is that it's not a matter of if he will go, but when.

So how about this: He appoints a brilliant whiz to revitalise Argos, gives the new man (or woman) cover for the next year. Makes a few tough, deeply unpopular decisions. Then bows out, not at the top, but at least with dignity intact.

It's a pity that it should be like this for the simple reason that Mr Duddy is a nice guy. But they don't give prizes for that sort of thing.

Going may be bumpier yet for Tesco

In the old days, when Tesco showed signs of wobbling, it would always quickly correct itself. Under the firm, even masterful, guidance of Sir Terry Leahy, this quarter's slip in sales would always turn out to be next quarter's brilliant strategy. He was ahead of the game and ahead of the curve.

Philip Clarke doesn't have that aura. It is his misfortune to have taken charge just as a consumer recession was brewing but even allowing for that, he's got some convincing to do.

It's not just that yesterday's sales update was bad.

It's that several wheels seem in danger of coming off at once. The Big Price Drop didn't work.

Other offers, Double Points, Discount Brands, seem unnecessarily fiddly, and consumers have noticed. If the UK profits fall, Mr Clarke doesn't have the money to invest in getting America right. So he scraps the US adventure. Shareholder confidence plummets and Asda takes advantage. Tesco flounders. It could happen.