Tesco revealed this morning that Charles Wilson will succeed Matt Davies as boss of its core UK business following completion of the Booker merger.
Retail Week profiled the Booker boss after details of the shock deal were first unveiled to the City a year ago.
There is no doubt Tesco is getting plenty for its money in the £3.7bn deal to acquire food wholesaler Booker.
Expertise in fresh food, a broad reach in the fast-growing convenience market through its Budgens, Londis and Premier symbol groups and access to the equally lucrative food service market – with restaurant clients including well-known names such as Byron, Wagamama and Prezzo – are among the obvious plus points in Tesco’s strategic rationale.
But perhaps the most significant coup of the entire acquisition is that Tesco has landed Booker’s highly regarded boss Charles Wilson, who will assume a seat on the supermarket giant’s executive committee.
In fact, one grocery source tells Retail Week that the crucial difference between Iceland’s failed merger with Booker all those years ago and Tesco’s fresh attempt at joining forces with the wholesale giant is that “someone’s had the sense to tie Charles Wilson down for five years”.
Although Tesco boss Dave Lewis would not confirm what Wilson’s exact role would be during that lock-in period on his shares, the former Unilever executive says he will take on “a very prominent role in our leadership team”.
That, in itself, should set alarm bells ringing in the boardrooms of Tesco’s big four rivals.
Praise for Wilson
Former Marks & Spencer and Arcadia executive Wilson is described by many of his c-suite contemporaries as a “genius.”
One former colleague points out Wilson’s “relentless work ethic” and “down to earth, personable nature” as among the attributes that have driven the 50-year-old’s corporate accomplishments to date.
It’s a success story that dates back to 1986, when Wilson began his career at Procter & Gamble, before going on to become a consultant with OC&C Strategy Consultants.
In 1998, Wilson embarked on his first stint at Booker, joining as an executive director under the firm’s then-boss Stuart Rose, two years before it merged with Iceland.
“I’ve been very good at working in number-two roles with people like Lord Rose, therefore that combination of working for Dave and working with Dave I’m really excited about, and so are the leadership team of Booker”
Wilson departed shortly after the deal was completed, joining Arcadia as an executive director before reuniting with Rose at Marks & Spencer in 2004.
But after a year as executive director for IT, logistics and property – effectively Rose’s right-hand man – Wilson rejoined Booker as chief executive, inheriting a business that was in dire straits after its merger with Iceland turned sour.
More than a decade on, Wilson’s widely recognised genius and hard work have transformed the wholesaler.
It demerged from Iceland, listed on the Stock Exchange, purchased rival Makro’s UK cash and carry operations from Metro Group and snapped up the Londis and Budgens convenience chains from Musgrave in a £40m deal to add to its stable of symbol group fascias.
Last Friday’s merger between the UK’s biggest supermarket chain and the UK’s biggest food wholesaler marked perhaps the high point in Wilson’s impressive career so far.
But, providing the competition watchdogs give the surprise deal the green light, there could plenty more to come.
Wilson will be a focal point and a key source of inspiration and ideas when it comes to shaping and building the enlarged Tesco Booker group.
And for many, Wilson is now the obvious heir-apparent to Lewis to lead Britain’s biggest retailer.
Lewis himself even appeared to hint at such a succession plan, as he stressed Wilson’s importance to the enlarged business.
He described Wilson’s appointment to the Tesco executive committee and Plc board as “a very important, key detail” of the acquisition.
“His commitment to what it is we’re building here is complete and absolute,” Lewis added.
“Dave and I have known each other for a long time. I hold him in very high regard and hold the Tesco business in very high regard, too”
“This is a merger which is focused on growth and the expertise that Charles and his team bring is an expertise that we need to build inside Tesco.”
Wilson playing second fiddle to Lewis for each of those five years appears an unlikely scenario but, given his previous, it is a role he appears happy to fulfil, in the short-term at least.
“Dave and I have known each other for a long time. I hold him in very high regard and hold the Tesco business in very high regard, too,” Wilson said.
“There are some great leaders there and it will be great to work with them.
“I’ve been very good at working in number-two roles with people like Lord Rose, therefore that combination of working for Dave and working with Dave I’m really excited about, and so are the leadership team of Booker.”
With a Tesco turnaround in full swing and a man of Wilson’s recognised calibre poised to join the party, it’s no wonder “excitement” is fast becoming the buzzword at Welwyn Garden City.