MacLaurin scotches talk of standing aside at Tesco

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The Independent Online
SIR Ian MacLaurin, the pounds 967,000-a-year chairman and chief executive of Tesco, has countered speculation about a succession battle in the supermarkets group by saying he plans to stay on for another four years.

His determination to stay will come as a surprise to the City, which had expected him to stand down sooner to give David Malpas, his number two and heir apparent, a fair crack at the top job.

However, Sir Ian told the Independent on Sunday last week: 'My present plans are that I will stay on till 60. My 'sell by' date is 60.'

Mr Malpas, managing director, would be 57 by then, reducing his chances of succeeding to the top job. However, Sir Ian's job could be split before then and the chief executive post given to Mr Malpas, who already oversees the day-to-day running of the group.

Tesco's launch this month of a downmarket range of groceries, Tesco Value, has resurrected rumours of a boardroom split - rumours which Sir Ian dismisses as 'absolute rubbish'.

Tesco will this week scotch allegations by rivals that it has had second thoughts about its excursion downmarket, by launching an advertising campaign for Tesco Value and promoting the range in the stores.

The 70 lines - known privately in Tesco as 'Third World brands' - are low in quality and price. Baked beans are 15p a tin, yoghurts 14p and a litre of washing-up liquid is 25p.

Rival supermarkets were puzzled when Tesco, which launched the range two weeks ago, made no effort to promote it. Some of the products were given very little shelf space and positioned in less accessible parts of the stores.

Tesco has fallen out of favour with investors because of declining underlying sales volumes and industry-wide worries about supermarket saturation and the influx of the discounters. Some analysts believe Sir Ian might already have retired but for the company's present difficulties.

Some shareholders fear that Tesco, which has spent the past 15 years shedding the 'pile-it- high' image to join the ranks of J Sainsbury and Argyll- owned Safeway, could damage its reputation by giving its name to a downmarket range. It has sold similar tertiary products before, but never under the Tesco name.

But others believe Tesco is right to challenge more competitively priced grocers such as Asda and Kwik Save. It has become more aggressive recently, cutting prices regionally to beat off specific rivals.

Sir Ian said he had 'no problem' with the cross-directorships between Tesco and the Welsh Development Agency, the public body severely censured by the Commons public accounts committee last month. Mr Malpas is a WDA director.

An independent investigation by Hugh Aldous, senior partner of Robson Rhodes, into the business deals between the WDA and Tesco found no evidence of any conflicts of interest sufficient to be a matter of public concern.

Mr Malpas said there was nothing improper about the arrangement.

His three-year term with the WDA would expire in December 1995 and he had no intention of withdrawing before then.

(Photograph omitted)

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