Tesco boss Philip Clarke expresses relief over exit

  • 21 July 2014
  • From the section Business
Shopping trolleys are seen lined up at a Tesco supermarket
Image caption Tesco has reported lower UK sales for three quarters in a row

Tesco's chief executive Philip Clarke has told the BBC that he feels "enormous relief" over leaving the supermarket giant.

The retailer announced he would be leaving in October amid news that it would miss profit forecasts.

Speaking to BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed, Mr Clarke said it was clearly an "emotional" time.

Mr Clarke, who had previously insisted that he was "not going anywhere", will be replaced by Dave Lewis of Unilever.

Tesco said current trading had been "more challenging" than anticipated, adding that sales and trading profit for the first half of the year had been "somewhat below expectations".

Asked about whether it was his choice to leave this week, Mr Clarke told the BBC's business editor, Kamal Ahmed, that: "[The date] is not one of my choosing but it is a choice I would willingly make."

Party cancelled

A party to mark Mr Clarke's 40th year at Tesco was planned for tomorrow night - suggesting the news was unexpected. The party has now been cancelled.

Mr Clarke had worked his way up from the shop floor and became chief executive in 2011, after taking over from Sir Terry Leahy.

He said he had "nothing to regret, only positive thoughts".

Mr Clarke had been trying to revive Tesco's fortunes through a £1bn turnaround plan, but a trading update last month showed a 3.7% fall in like-for-like sales, which he admitted were the worst figures for decades.

At the time, Mr Clarke spoke of his intention to stay with the store and outlined that he was "going to see through a fundamental reshaping of Tesco".

But in the statement announcing his departure, he said: "Having taken the business through the huge challenges of the last few years, I think this is the right moment to hand over responsibility."

Investors welcomed the change of leadership, sending shares in Tesco up more than 2% to 291.40p.

Bryan Roberts, retail analyst at Kantar Retail told the BBC: "Philip Clarke inherited a troubled business that had not seen enough investment in the UK and also featured misguided overseas expansion.

"Although a lot of progress has been made under Clarke, he has failed to reignite performance in a British grocery market that has undergone structural change and a huge shift in shopper behaviour."

Analysis: Kamal Ahmed, BBC Business Editor

In the polite language of the boardroom, Philip Clarke did not leave at a time of his choosing. It was only two months ago that the Tesco chief executive was talking about being at the retailer until 60. Well, now he's gone and he's still only 54.

After months of low-level grumbling from investors, yet another profits warning proved to be the final curtain for the Tesco lifer. The share price this morning is up 2%.

Tesco's major strategic problem was no one was quite sure what it was for - it was marooned between the more upmarket offer of Sainsbury's and Waitrose and the value offer of Aldi and Lidl.

One source at Tesco told me this morning that in the battle between "users and choosers", the retailer was on the wrong side. Yes, lots (though diminishing numbers) of people used Tesco, but not enough chose to.

It will be Dave Lewis's job to change that equation.

Read more from Kamal

'Fresh perspectives'

Mr Clarke will leave Tesco's board on 1 October to be replaced by Dave Lewis, who is currently president of personal care at consumer goods firm Unilever.

It is the first time Tesco has appointed someone from outside the firm to the position of chief executive.

In a statement, Tesco chairman Richard Broadbent said: "Philip Clarke agreed with the board that this is the appropriate moment to hand over to a new leader with fresh perspectives and a new profile.

"Dave Lewis brings a wealth of international consumer experience and expertise in change management, business strategy, brand management and customer development.

"He is already known to many people inside Tesco, having worked with the business over many years in his roles at Unilever."

'Sizeable task'

The latest figures from research firm Kantar Worldpanel found that Tesco's market share had fallen to 29% in the 12 weeks to 25 May, down from 30.5% a year earlier.

In the statement announcing Mr Clarke's departure, Tesco said trading conditions were "more challenging than we anticipated" at the time of its trading update in June.

"The overall market is weaker and, combined with the increasing investments we are making to improve the customer offer and to build long term loyalty, this means that sales and trading profit in the first half of the year are somewhat below expectations."

Tesco has faced intense competition from discount rivals including Aldi and Lidl as well as from more upmarket retailers such as Waitrose.

Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "In all, the task ahead for the new chief executive remains sizeable. The march of the discounters Aldi and Lidl continues, whilst Tesco's prior advantage in the form of its overseas operations is not what it once was.

"The question now will be whether the new chief executive will have the courage to take early aggressive action."

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