Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke has charged former chief operating officer Chris Bush with the task of handling its UK business as managing director, Retail Week takes a look at the Tesco lifer.
The news that Tesco group chief executive Philip Clarke has appointed Chris Bush as UK managing director comes with a certain air of inevitability.
After ushering former UK chief executive Richard Brasher out of the door earlier this year and losing the service of deputy chief executive and US boss Tim Mason, Clarke has cut an increasingly isolated figure at the head of the world’s third largest retailer.
Clarke added control of Tesco’s domestic business to his plethora of responsibilities after Brasher’s departure however a multitude of problems with slowing markets in Europe and Asia have added to his lengthy ‘to do’ list.
Bush’s emergence as frontrunner to replace Brasher in December appeared a sensible move. He replaced Clarke’s fixer Bob Robbins last February after heading the successful Tesco Lotus business in Thailand since April 2010. He was thrown in at the deep end, helping to guide the retailer through a difficult period as trading profit fell 1% to £2.5bn in the UK last year.
Having developed strong skills in non-food and consumer analysis while he was firstly chief operating officer in South Korea and then chief executive in Malaysia, he now faces one of the toughest tasks in retail if he takes over the UK, enacting Clarke’s £1bn turnaround plan.
Bush, who has been at Tesco for 30 years, is currently responsible for the UK stores, distribution network and leadership. He needs to use all the resources at his disposal to encourage shoppers to love Tesco once more, has already revamped its value range and is likely to press the button on a marketing offensive in January.
Kantar Retail insights director Bryan Roberts said the appointment of Bush would make sense. “He is born and bred Tesco and the UK business needs the strong insights he can bring from the international business given the cross-country synergies that are becoming increasingly important.
“You do need that separation of roles between group and UK boss and it is high time someone is appointed. It was always a question of when not if,” argues Roberts.
Espirito Santo analyst Caroline Gulliver said: “From our perspective Bush seems a natural choice. Chris Bush is a Tesco ‘lifer’ having spent 30 years at the company.”
Fresh Foods commercial director John Scouler is also believed to be in the frame for the position. Scouler was formerly responsible for household, healthcare, baby and beauty products, in addition to his responsibilities for packaged foods, petrol and tobacco. He was revealed as fresh foods boss in October replacing Andrew Yaxley who has been handing over the role to Scouler since he officially took charge on December 1. Yaxley himself, who is currently on a general management training programme, may also be a candidate for the top job.
Roberts believes whoever lands the job will not have an easy ride. He said: “Turning round the UK has been harder than expected. There has been a general improvement in stores including some nice developments in improving both private label and the stores themselves. Anecdotally I understand staffing is not where it should be and hours have been cut back in some stores.”
Tesco’s UK boss remains one of the most prestigious, well paid and tough jobs in UK retail and whoever lands the position will find themself firmly under the City’s microscope.