As Tesco’s chief executive Dave Lewis starts the job a month early, what advice should he take on how to turn the struggling retailer around?

The one currency new Tesco boss Dave Lewis won’t be in short supply of as he gets to grips with turning around the UK’s largest retailer is advice. From analysts’ open letters to his own call for staff feedback, opinions on how best to tackle the challenges ahead are already filling his inbox.

But on his first day in the job, in a letter to Tesco staff, Lewis made clear there will be no “hasty decisions” about the strategic future of the business. Indeed, new finance chief Alan Stewart is not due to start until December, so it may be early next year before we see a long-term vision take shape.

Lewis’s letter also acknowledged the need to address the urgent issues that have plagued the company recently. As his early arrival at Tesco suggests, time is not a luxury the new boss has in abundance.

One commentator on Twitter this week evoked the spirit of Louis Gerstner, the saviour of IBM in the 1990s, who famously said only days into his role at the then beleaguered IT group: “The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.”

It’s a quote that has always divided opinion, but Gerstner believed a long-term strategy could wait until some stability was delivered through short-term decisions about how the business executed on the basics.

“In a letter to Tesco staff, Lewis made clear there will be no ‘hasty decisions’ about the strategic future of the business.”

Chris Brook-Carter, Editor-in-chief

The decision this week to slow Tesco’s store refurbishments and cut IT expenditure signal that the vision set out by predecessor Philip Clarke is being reappraised. But it also allows Lewis the flexibility to invest in the retail fundamentals that made Tesco the envy of the sector – skills it must master again, regardless of where the business thinks it will be in five years.

Core to delivering this will be galvanising its greatest asset, the thousands of staff whose morale has taken a battering in the past year, to help solve its biggest problem: the broken relationship with customers.

Lewis has already indicated he has both groups of stakeholders front of mind, making his first address to staff in that letter and spending his second day addressing 1,500 store managers. And in both he championed the customer as king.

Gerstner may have courted controversy by eschewing vision in the short term, but his early rhetoric at IBM very quickly put the customer at the heart of the proposition.

That mix of the practical with a clear call to arms to serve customers is as good a place for Lewis to start as any, as he builds the platform for recovery.

  • Chris Brook-Carter, Editor-in-chief