The Tesco trainees are taking over

Executives who used to work for Britain's biggest supermarket are leading a retail revolution. James Thompson reports

Domino's Pizza UK revealed yesterday that it had hired Lance Batchelor, the head of Tesco Mobile, to become its heir-apparent.

When he takes the job of deputy chief executive at Domino's in June, Mr Batchelor will join an illustrious list of former senior executives from Tesco who have left and gone on to run other companies.

In fact, the list of ex-Tesco directors reads like a Who's Who of chief executives. It includes John Browett, at Dixons Retail (which owns Currys), David Wild at Halfords, Scott Wheway at Best Buy Europe, Ken McMeikan at Greggs, and Dido Harding at TalkTalk.

Mr Batchelor's exit will again raise the question of the "Tesco-isation" of UK boardrooms and of whether the company has become the new Mars – a reference to the consumer goods giant's reputation for creating successful chief executives. While the Mars alumni – the so-called "Mars Mafia" – include the former Asda chief executive, Allan Leighton, and the current boss of Sainsbury's, Justin King, it is now the Tesco talent pool that large companies often look to when hiring.

A key reason is the depth of experience senior executives acquire at Tesco, which operates in 14 countries including the UK.

James Hyde, a director at Flint Hyde, the executive recruitment firm, says: "Tesco's leaders and business managers have often been exposed to more than one discipline and country." In the year to February 2010, Tesco's pre-tax profits rose by 10.1 per cent to £3.4bn, on sales that were 6.8 per cent higher at a whopping £62.5bn.

Moira Benigson, the managing partner at The MBS Group, another executive search consultancy, says: "[Tesco] have been forward in their thinking and have led the way in many areas, including general merchandise, international and multi-channel. Companies always love hiring from winning companies and hope to get a sprinkle of the pixie dust."

Tesco executives also know a thing or two about the basics of retailing. This is in part because of the determined focus on customers by Tesco's chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy. Ms Benigson says: "First and foremost, they are outstanding traders. [Sir Terry] put together a population of brains and brawn – outstanding strategists and well-educated people, as well as 'hairy-arsed traders'."

The size of Tesco's businesses – whether it is a non-food category or a country, such as Thailand – also make the executives who run them desirable. For example, Tesco's UK non-food operation, run by Laura Wade-Gery, would comfortably fit into the FTSE 250 if it were a standalone company.

Chris Stainton, a partner at the recruiter The Miles Partnership, says: "Tesco leaders are typically massively customer-centric, and they think from a customer point of view in terms of creating a value proposition. If you wanted someone to run British Airways, for example, from outside the aviation industry who was highly competitive, comfortable with scale, and had managed a large number of people, Tesco would be an obvious place to look."

Certainly, Tesco's talent pool is huge. The most senior executive below the main board is a "work level five", of which there are just under 100. At work level four, there are nearly 400 directors globally. There is also the Tesco Academy, an internal centre for leadership and development, which the company says is the largest investment in people in the British retail sector. Sally Elliott, head of retail at Korn/Ferry Whitehead Mann, says: "Organisations that are truly world-class recognise the significance of talent strategy to the achievement of the company's overall strategic objectives."

In contrast to Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda, Tesco's executives can also boast overseas experience.

Justin Linger, a director at Barracuda, a boutique search firm, says: "Tesco UK retailers who have also worked in the Tesco international businesses have a unique skill set that is attractive to many global customer-facing businesses."

Once they have cut their teeth working in Britain, Tesco often likes to see how rising stars fare overseas, in a different working culture. Mr Linger says: "If they survive and thrive in these often challenging environments, this makes them attractive as candidates."

But with so many executives at Tesco, some find their road to the top blocked. One insider says that to progress there you have to show your commitment to the cause. For example, if you turn down the opportunity to work in Hungary it is not looked upon kindly.

While the creation of a new UK board at Tesco this year was largely interpreted as its head of international Philip Clarke – who becomes chief executive in March – putting his stamp on the business, he will also have had an eye on talent retention. Ms Benigson said there was a "traffic jam at the top" after Mr Clarke landed the senior role, adding: "They have grown too many very good people who now have nowhere to go, and only one could get the top job."

However, many would love to have Mr Clarke's array of talent, and a fact of life is that ambitious people – just like Mr Batchelor – often want to be a chief executive.

As Ms Elliott says: "Because of its scale, Tesco's executives at the level below the board, and even lower down the organisation, are credible candidates for number-one roles elsewhere." Step aside, Mars.

Scott Wheway

Appointed chief executive of Best Buy Europe in 2009 after a spell at Alliance Boots. At Tesco, he rose to be chief executive of its Japan unit.

Lance Batchelor

The chief executive of Tesco Mobile leaves next month and will become the deputy chief executive of Domino's Pizza UK in June.

Steve Robinson

As chief executive of Tesco Direct, he led its online non-food unit. Became boss of the online clothing retailer M and M Direct in 2007.

David Wild

Ran Tesco's Central Europe business but left in 2003 after 18 years. After a stint at Walmart, he took the helm at Halfords in 2008.

Dido Harding

Held UK and overseas roles at Tesco before joining Sainsbury's in 2007. She was named chief executive of TalkTalk this year.

Ken McMeikan

Like Scott Wheway, he also ran Tesco Japan. Poached by Sainsbury's to be a director in 2005, he has led Greggs bakery since 2008.

John Browett

Joined Dixons Retail in December 2007, having been development director at Tesco. He previously ran the Tesco.com website.

Julia Reynolds

Tesco's fashion business delivers sales well in excess of £1bn, and Reynolds was its director of merchandising and buying for clothing in Europe. She left in 2007 to become chief executive of the online lingerie retailer Figleaves, which was bought by the home shopping group N Brown for £11.5m last year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IFA Based

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road