Asda’s new chief executive will use his operational experience to try to turn round the grocer’s performance.
As the UK ushers the new Prime Minister to have been educated at Eton, the retail industry welcomes the second Asda chief executive to have been educated at The King’s School in Grantham.
Andy Clarke last week stepped into the shoes of his fellow King’s alumnus, Andy Bond. Aside from attending the same school, the years the two have spent working together are likely to mean Clarke will lead the business in a similar way - with customers and staff at the heart of everything it does.
Booker chief executive Charles Wilson, who worked with Clarke at Iceland, says Clarke is a “classic stores operator”, who “runs a good ship”.
He says: “Clarke comes from the operating side and that is exactly the way Walmart does it. His appointment brings continuity for the business.”
Most of those who know Clarke - both colleagues and rivals - are agreed he is one of the good guys. “His heart is in the right place and he is a genuinely nice guy,” says another former colleague.
Clarke, 46, is known for his operational qualities. While Bond will perhaps be remembered for his big strategic initiatives, Clarke will likely be recognised for his hands-on leadership. He is passionate about the values of the business, its heritage, people and team spirit.
The former colleague says: “Asda has its strategy laid out and Clarke is an excellent choice to implement the plans operationally.”
James Hyde, director of headhunter Flint Hyde, says that Clarke is “engaging” and “will be a very popular choice internally”.
Clarke is a typical example of a retail chief executive who has worked his way up from the shopfloor. Having started out aged 17 stacking shelves at Fine Fare, which was later swallowed up by Somerfield, he then spent eight years at Morrisons, latterly as store manager. From there, he moved to Asda, where he has spent the greater part of his career, starting out as store manager in an Edinburgh shop.
As part of the management team when US giant Walmart bought the business in 1999, Clarke also has strong ties to the grocer’s parent, meaning he was well placed to succeed Bond.
But it is also Clarke’s four-year stint outside Asda from 2002 to 2005 that helped him secure the top job. He took roles at value fashion chain Matalan, then at frozen foods retailer Iceland, before returning to Asda as retail director.
This experience in non-food and clothing and in smaller grocery stores will stand Clarke in good stead in Asda’s bid to become the UK’s leading non-food retailer and the clear number two in food within five years - an ambition it aims to achieve in part by opening smaller supermarkets.
Asda’s strategy was laid out at the beginning of the year and, while Clarke will have a tough job on his hands, his knowledge of the business will be key. Planet Retail global research analyst Bryan Roberts says: “He is the best person to have taken over, as he knows the business from the ground up. His food background will be essential to rejuvenate that area, but he also has good experience of non-food.
“The business has struggled in the past couple of months, but it doesn’t need drastic reinvention and, while Clarke has his work cut out, he is a safe pair of hands to deliver results.”
Asda’s first-quarter trading update, revealing a 0.3% like-for-like sales fall, showed the task ahead of him. Now it is down to Clarke to prove he’s the right man to turn things round.
Hobbies Keen rugby player and fan. His team is Leicester Tigers
Family Married with three children
May 2010 Appointed Asda chief executive
2005 Asda retail director, then chief operating officer
2004 Iceland managing director
2002 Matalan chief operations officer
1992 to 2002 Various roles at Asda, including store manager, then trading and operations roles