James Moore: It's time to hear from the rest of Tesco's top brass

 

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The Independent Online

Outlook The City might be buying into the bright future for Tesco, as I highlighted yesterday. But the grocer still has a myriad of issues hanging over it as Panorama’s feature on the chain demonstrated. It was more entertainment than exposé, but isn’t it fun when two former executives who sat around the boardroom table together and palled around start taking shots at each other?

In this case, it was Sir Terry Leahy, the once-sainted retailer whose reputation has taken rather a knock since the Tesco train hit the buffers, and his successor, Philip Clarke, who mounted a robust defence, saying the business had serious structural problems when he took over.

Who to believe? Well, in its joy at securing the first forthright interview with Sir Tel since Tesco fell into a trough of its own digging, the programme neglected to mention that no less than Lord MacLaurin, Sir Tel’s mentor and predecessor, said he had “lost the plot” at the company’s own AGM back in 2013. He rather sharply criticised the chain’s failed US expansion via Californian retailer Fresh and (not so) Easy and its neglect of the domestic consumer.

On the other hand, as we all know now, Tesco’s problems with profit warnings on Mr Clarke’s watch didn’t stop it from splashing out on corporate jets. But perhaps they were on a three-for-two offer. Nor did it stop, as I’ve been told by those in the know, the sorting of senior execs into Terry’s people and Phil’s people, with the former being lined up for the chop regardless of their abilities.

The reality is that the Tesco Titanic was pointed in the direction of the iceberg by Sir Tel, but his successor did precious little to stop it. It speaks volumes that his only memorable impact on the company was the Hudl tablet. Now they’ve both gone (having pocketed their millions, and with the sort of pensions their employees can only dream of, thanks to the closure of the final-salary scheme), the staff and the shareholders are picking up the pieces.

The people everyone might like to hear from now are the non-executive directors who were supposed to oversee two men who both arguably lost sight of the customers they were supposed to be serving. Governance might seem to be worthy-but-dull as a concept. But Tesco is what you get when it fails. 

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