Tesco 'brain drain' claims third senior scalp in a week

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The Independent Online

Tesco has lost is third senior executive in the space of a week, announcing yesterday that its commercial finance director, Keith Down, was leaving the retail giant to become finance director at JD Wetherspoon, the pubs chain.

Mr Down follows Julia Reynolds and Dido Harding out of the door. Respectively the director of Tesco's central European clothing business and its development director, the two women have quit in the past week.

The departures bring the number of senior executives to have quit Tesco this year to five – Steve Robinson, head of Tesco Direct left in September, while operations and IT director John Browett quit in June – prompting fears that the company is suffering a "brain drain".

However, a spokesman for Tesco said the retailer was sanguine about the departures, which have come from a pool of several hundred executives in the two levels just below the boardroom. "We are still talking about a handful of people," he said. "Market-leading businesses such as ours are always going to prove attractive hunting grounds for rivals looking for talent."

Recruitment experts said the raids on Tesco could also be seen as a compliment to the company, which is increasingly regarded as something of a training academy for Britain's most senior board directors.

The retailer's relatively young board means there are fewer opportunities for executives to move upwards, but its scale means some are already running sizeable businesses.

In the UK, two companies in particular have in recent times been thought of as training grounds for the boardroom. Oil company BP's alumni include Dick Olver, now chairman of BAE Systems, Chris Gibson-Smith, chairman of the London Stock Exchange, and John Buchanan, who occupies the chairman's seat at Smith & Nephew.

Similarly, Mars, the confectionery company, has produced a slew of senior managers who have moved on to bigger jobs, including three high-profile FTSE 100 company leaders of recent times. Allan Leighton, who left Mars in 1992, subsequently became chief executive of Asda and is now chairman of Royal Mail. Mars also produced Justin King, Sainsbury's chief executive, and Richard Baker, chief executive of Alliance Boots until earlier this year.

Tesco's status as a potential executive boot camp is boosted by the nature of the retail business, where success – or failure – is easily judged over very short-term periods, with sales scrutinised on a day-by-day basis. The company's spokesman added: "The important thing for us is that we keep talent moving through the company with big jobs that are rewarding and stretching."