The term ‘end of an era’ is overused. But next week undeniably marks one, when Sir Terry Leahy - the most successful retailer of his generation - departs Tesco’s austere Cheshunt headquarters for the last time after 14 years in charge, and Phil Clarke takes over.

The term ‘end of an era’ is overused. But next week undeniably marks one, when Sir Terry Leahy - the most successful retailer of his generation - departs Tesco’s austere Cheshunt headquarters for the last time after 14 years in charge, and Phil Clarke takes over.

Many have pointed out the similarities between Clarke and Leahy. They’re both from Liverpool, they’ve worked at Tesco for longer than a lot of people in the business will have been alive, they even live on the same street.

But there the generalisations end. The key difference between the two is that while Leahy was a marketer by background, Clarke is an out-and-out retailer, a tough and rather more exuberant character than his predecessor, and he’s been wearing out shoe leather - from Ludlow to Stafford via Manhattan Beach, California, in the past fortnight - getting to grips with his new empire.

What’s crucial is that his new management team works, without any shocks like the unwelcome defection of Laura Wade-Gery. Richard Brasher’s new role as chief executive of the UK business should restore flair to a business that has begun to look a little workmanlike, especially in non-food.

The other key figure will be Tim Mason. He still faces the huge challenge of dragging Fresh & Easy in the US into profitability, but at the same time in his other role as deputy chief executive Clarke is likely to lean heavily on him for the marketing stardust and customer insight that have been so vital to Tesco’s success under Leahy.

It will help that they’ve all worked together for donkey’s years - of the executive directors, the newest to the business has been there 11 years. That stability is a huge asset. But while there always seems to be a reservoir of great people below the board, it also means that talent - and arguably new ideas - finds it hard to break through to the very top. Clarke would do well to put a stop to Tesco being a finishing school for its rivals.

He’ll face some big decisions - such as whether to pull out of loss-making countries like Japan, and maybe even the US - but also huge opportunity that crucially doesn’t involve entering new markets, just building on those it’s already in. It only sells online in three of its 14 markets, and at home it has barely scratched the surface of banking.

The challenge will be juggling all the opportunities while ensuring that the core business continues to innovate against what are increasingly strong rivals. There will be plenty of people willing Clarke to fail, but just like his predecessor, that will only make him more determined.

tim.danaher@retail-week.com