Sometimes bolts from the blue strike at random and without warning which put business, and life in general, into perspective.
Sometimes stock exchange statements hit our inboxes which reverberate beyond the headlines and generate genuine emotion.
Sometimes retail simply pales into insignificance as concern shifts to the wellbeing of the people that make this industry such a vibrant place in which to work.
“There is no doubt Wilson is one of retail’s great strategists, great leaders and great people”
This morning was one such occasion. Tesco shocked the market when it revealed its UK boss Charles Wilson was stepping down to continue his recovery from throat cancer.
Wilson was diagnosed following an operation to remove his tonsils back in April, just months after Tesco completed its acquisition of Booker – the wholesale business that Wilson has transformed so impressively.
Since then, he has undergone two months of daily radiotherapy, to which he has thankfully responded “very well”.
Despite his illness – and the fact he is stepping away from his recently inherited duties within Tesco’s core British business as he concentrates on his recovery – Wilson will remain on the grocer’s executive committee and focus on leading the Booker business.
That, in a nutshell, sums up the huge regard with which Wilson, affectionately known by many in the industry as ‘Two Brains’, is held.
Even if Tesco and Booker are only able to tap into one of those brilliant brains while Wilson recuperates, it will be one with the ability to make a huge difference to its broadening business.
There is no doubt Wilson is one of retail’s great strategists, great leaders and, perhaps most importantly, one of its great people.
For that reason, Tesco will be all the poorer while Wilson focuses on his health.
Tesco moves swiftly
Wilson is widely seen as the heir apparent to group chief executive Dave Lewis. Indeed, when the £3.7bn Booker deal was done, many observers surmised that Tesco’s biggest coup was not in snapping up the cash-and-carry operator, but securing the services of Wilson.
The hole he leaves will be a gaping one but Tesco has moved swiftly to restructure its senior team in Wilson’s absence.
Chief product officer Jason Tarry, one of few Tesco executives remaining from Philip Clarke’s tenure, will take the reins as boss of the UK and Ireland business. Ireland chief executive Andrew Yaxley will become chief product officer.
The challenge Tarry, in particular, faces is a monumental one, as Tesco enters one of the most crucial periods of its recent history. Working more closely with Booker to drive synergies, growing its online business and rebuilding margins are just three of the key targets he will be judged on.
He will need to achieve those goals at a time in which the retail industry is transforming beyond recognition.
Technology and digital capabilities are changing consumers’ shopping habits at a rapid rate – and demanding that retailers stay ahead.
“We were on tenterhooks anticipating what Tesco and Wilson would conjure up next”
Business rates and the national living wage are putting pressure on retailers’ bottom lines, forcing companies to radically rethink their cost bases and ensure investment cases in innovation and technology are cast-iron.
The political and economic uncertainty sparked by Brexit also continues to hang over retail like a dark cloud – particularly after another tumultuous few days in Parliament – leaving leaders wondering how they should plan for the next five years.
Tesco is making moves to be fit for that future. Its acquisition of Booker, the buying alliance with French supermarket operator Carrefour and its cashless shop trial are just three of the ways it is innovating to stay at the peak of the grocery game.
Wilson’s incredible intelligence will no doubt have played a key part in some, if not all, of those moves – and we were on tenterhooks anticipating what Tesco and Wilson would conjure up next.
I know I speak on behalf of everyone at Retail Week when I wish Charles a full and speedy recovery.