Asda chief Andy Clarke has revealed that incoming chief operating officer Roger Burnley will succeed him as the grocer’s boss, Retail Week can reveal.
Burnley joins the Walmart-owned supermarket giant from big four rival Sainsbury’s in October – an appointment that sparked speculation Clarke may be poised to exit the retailer when the move was confirmed last year.
Although Burnley has been touted as the likely heir to under-pressure Clarke’s throne, neither he nor Asda have publicly outlined that succession plan until now.
Clarke, who has presided over seven consecutive quarters of falling sales at the embattled grocer, is set to face even more scrutiny from his Walmart paymasters after its international boss Dave Cheesewright admitted he was “very disappointed” in Asda’s performance.
He said the US retail juggernaut would now place focus on regaining sales and share within its UK business, rather than protecting profits.
Clarke insisted he was “happy” to continue spearheading that drive through the implementation of Asda’s Project Renewal plan – which is geared around prioritising investment into its underperforming stores – but said he would eventually hand the baton to Burnley.
“It took us some time to find the right person, the right cultural fit, the right sort of character and leader that can run the business”
Andy Clarke, Asda
Speaking exclusively to Retail Week during Walmart’s shareholders week in Arkansas, Clarke said: “For now, I’m leading the UK business and welcoming Roger when he joins and getting him ready at the right time where we can have those discussions as a Walmart team and the Asda team.
“Although lots of people tried to make nuisance noise out of it, we couldn’t have been more public – I said I wanted to find somebody who had the ability to be my successor.
“It took us some time to find the right person, the right cultural fit, the right sort of character and leader that can run the business.
“There’s never any promises in life, but for Roger he’s a great leader, he’s going to be a great colleague and I look forward to spending time with him and preparing him for what hopefully should be his next role.”
Asked what the timeline was for him to hand over the reins, Clarke said: “How long’s a piece of string?
“I’m in no rush to do anything else. We’re on a three-year journey from a strategic plan perspective, I’m very happy to continue to deliver that and to work through that and see the strategic plan implemented. Then we can talk about it from there.”
Hinting at a possible switch to a more central role within Walmart once his time as Asda boss comes to an end, Clarke added: “It’s a topic of many discussions and I keep talking to Dave [Cheesewright] and to Doug [McMillon].
“I love the job I do and I’m pretty committed to the UK. I love the UK – I’ve got lots of family and friends there.
“You never say never, do you? But I’ve got to say it’s less likely that [moving to the US] would be the route I’d take.
“The fact that I sit on the ‘Massmart’ board means I’m involved in other markets – I travel to South Africa and support the team there, so there may be opportunities that come my way that mean I’m able to live where I live but support other markets.”
For more of our interview with Andy Clarke, check out our Walmart shareholders documentary later this week.