Chris Blackhurst: Tesco, the friendly grocer, pins hope on image revamp

Midweek View: Make no mistake - the Leahy style belongs to the past

We looked at each other and agreed: it would never have happened in Tel’s day. On Monday, I was having breakfast with a long-time Tesco analyst. The news was dominated by the supermarket giant’s revelation that it had conducted a survey and discovered it generated almost 30,000 tonnes of unwanted food in the first six months of 2013.

I mentioned it to my pal and we both shook our heads. The idea that Tesco, under its former boss Sir Terry Leahy, would have indulged in such a survey was ridiculous. We could hear Sir Terry intoning in his Scouse drawl: “Too soft, a complete waste of time.”

His, don’t forget, was the Tesco where suppliers were invited to the company’s Hertfordshire headquarters for verbal duffing-ups; where the chief would openly boast of the company’s aggressive, expansionist policies; where the emphasis was on slaying the opposition and taking no prisoners. Going to a Tesco store towards the end of the Leahy regime was to experience a visual battering, as signs everywhere would proclaim how much cheaper the chain was compared with its rivals.

Those days have gone. Now Tesco branches are all cuddly and friendly, with the emphasis on goodness and well-being, the eye drawn to notices proclaiming the quality of its artisan bakery and butchery lines.

The revolution of the current chief executive Philip Clarke is under way. The headline-grabber was canning Sir Terry’s pet project in the US. But along with the spiking of Fresh & Easy, there has been a rapid clearout of senior management; the icy detachment that was Tesco’s attitude towards the world has vanished.

Mr Clarke beats himself and Tesco up. In one speech, remarkable for the chief of Tesco, he admitted to farmers that the chain had gone too far – that it was seeking a new, more equal relationship with them. He talks repeatedly of Tesco having listened to the public and recognising the widespread view that the group is all about what it can take out rather than what it can put back. From now on, he vows, Tesco will be seen as a force for positive change.

He is not alone; his message is relayed by his senior staff. The group corporate affairs director, Rebecca Shelley, describes how “scale can be used to achieve social good”.

She says: “There’s no doubt expectations of business have changed. The financial crisis and the global recession had a profound impact on consumers which continues today, even as the economic outlook improves. There’s a sharper appreciation for fairness, and business was one of the first to feel the impact. Is business good or bad, are their motives and values in line or at odds with the society they serve? Are they making a positive contribution in all they do? It goes far beyond the concern for corporate social responsibility. A business’s contribution and its values must be clear and unambiguous, and above all sincere.”

At Tesco’s annual general meeting, its former chairman and chief executive, Lord MacLaurin, weighed in. He said: “When you judge [Sir Terry’s] legacy, it’s very sad. This company is not going to be fixed overnight. It is a two or three-year job and I urge you [current chairman Sir Richard Broadbent] to give Philip Clarke and his team time to do this.”

Two things appear to have collided to force the revisionism. One was that Tesco was faltering. Its latest interims showed a 24 per cent fall in profits. The US was a disaster, while in the core UK market store openings had slowed (and become increasingly dogged by planning inquiries), non-food was creaking, and Sainsbury’s and Waitrose were in the ascendant in food. Eastern Europe and Asia, too, were suffering.

That coincided with negativity surrounding Tesco’s image. Here, Mr Clarke, Ms Shelley and co have absorbed the more inclusive mantra of corporatism – as portrayed in a new book, Everybody’s Business, by Jon Miller and Lucy Parker. After enduring years of hostility, say the authors, “companies are realising that lasting success comes from having a purpose broader than making a profit. They know that business should benefit customers, employees, suppliers, neighbours and the wider world, as well as shareholders. Enduring value comes from making business work for everyone.”

Tesco does not feature in the book’s case studies. Not yet. Perhaps it will, in the second edition. There’s no doubt, as Lord MacLaurin said, that the realignment will take time and it will not produce immediate results. Some impatient shareholders, notably Warren Buffett, have voted with their feet – the arch American investor reduced his stake by £300m.

But make no mistake: the Leahy style and his hold on Tesco belong to the past.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Fraud contributes 11p to a £2.00 box of half a dozen eggs
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the Jurassic World trailer
film

Video: The official full-length trailer for the Jurassic Park sequel has dropped – two days early

Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environment
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
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

Citifocus Ltd: Product Development - Asset Management

£Attractive: Citifocus Ltd: High calibre individual with significant product d...

Citifocus Ltd: Credit Ratings - Banking Sector

£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: Leading global bank seeks experienced credit analy...

Citifocus Ltd: Economic Crime Investigation & Analysis

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: High calibre individual with a high degree...

Citifocus Ltd: Snr Risk Analyst - Capital & Liquidity

£Attractive: Citifocus Ltd: High calibre individual with superior academics an...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital