After a tumultuous couple of years for Tesco, the appointment of Jason Tarry as head of commercial for the UK as part of a wider management reshuffle should give the grocer a new start.
Since joining Tesco’s finance division in 1990 through a graduate recruitment programme, Tarry has worked his way up the retailer’s ranks.
In 1993 he moved to commercial and has held a number of positions including impulse and bakery category director, non-food sourcing director and clothing category director.
In 2005, Tarry was promoted to commercial director for UK general merchandise, returning to clothing in 2008, taking on responsibility for clothing across Central Europe and Turkey as well as the department store operation in the Czech and Slovak Republics.
In 2012, he became chief executive of the retailer’s clothing division, adding the UK and Ireland and online operations to his remit as well as taking F&F to Tesco’s Asia business and further afield through franchise partnerships.
At a time when there has been a lot of bad news coming out of the UK’s largest grocer, Shore Capital analyst Clive Black says Tarry has been “running one of the very few success stories at Tesco over the last two or three years, with the revitalisation and expansion of F&F”.
Black says Tarry has done a lot of good work in Tesco’s international markets, both in the business in Central Europe and in creating an embryonic franchise business further afield.
He adds that the accounting scandal at Tesco has meant there has been a “bit of a depletion of the gene pool [at Tesco]”, and Jason Tarry’s successes mean that he “stands out”.
Although in recent years Tarry has been running the clothing business, Black is quick to emphasise that it’s “not as if he’s been in the rag trade for 20 years. He has broader experience at Tesco, in supermarkets with a commercial remit.”
While some might say it is too soon to speculate, Bernstein analyst Bruno Monteyne has tipped Tarry as a potential UK chief executive candidate if Dave Lewis were to become solely corporate chief executive.
“Jason is very respected within Tesco, very little bad is said about him and he has had a successful run being in charge of clothing for Europe,” says Monteyne.
Following the executive shake-up, Black believes Tesco’s executive team is going to be much leaner and simpler, with each member carrying a broader remit. He thinks that in Tarry, “Lewis has found an internal candidate that knows what Tesco is and can bring about a fresh pair of eyes”.
As he enters the role, Tarry’s first priority will be to reset and stabilise the commercial team.
“The commercial team has been enormously depleted by the accounting issue, so that team urgently needs some focus and needs a direction. It will probably involve a lot of new appointments, but I think fewer people will be doing more at Tesco’s head office in the future,” says Black.
Meanwhile Monteyne believes that previous chief executive Philip Clarke’s matrix structure created some “very heavy overheads and decision-making paralysis”.
The executive team will also have to put together a short, medium- and long-term commercial plan that is “not only going to stop the rot at Tesco’s domestic performance but also stabilise it and build it,” emphasises Black.
“That is a very substantial piece of work that is not only important for Tesco, but also for the entire UK food chain,” he observes.
A simpler structure at the top is key to revitalising the UK business, and many industry watchers hope that will trickle down to a simpler business strategy.
Describing the single thing that would turn around Tesco’s fortunes, Black says: “A more simple offer for consumers, a more simple supply chain for suppliers, and a more simple low-cost business for shareholders.”
Key to bringing that about, Black adds, is a sense of perspective, a sense of priority and clear decision-making.
“He [Tarry] will need to demonstrate that by his actions, rather than us talking about it. Tesco needs a materially leaner, fitter, more agile business, and he will be judged on his contribution to that,” he concludes.
Jason Tarry CV
January 2015: Head of commercial for UK and group, Tesco
2012 to 2014: Chief executive of group clothing, Tesco
2008 to 2012: Responsibility for clothing across Central Europe and Turkey as well as the department store operation in the Czech and Slovak Republic, Tesco
2005 to 2008: Commercial director for UK general merchandise, Tesco
1993 to 2005: Various positions at Tesco including impulse and bakery category director, non-food sourcing director and clothing category director
1990: Joins Tesco through a graduate recruitment programme