Tesco group chief executive Philip Clarke, a keynote speaker at Retail Week Live, last week unveiled plans to step up the pace of the grocer’s UK turnaround.

Few retailers would envy Philip Clarke’s task in turning around the Tesco supertanker, but even fewer would doubt his ferocious drive to address the issues.

Tesco lifer Clarke has taken a raft of tough decisions since filling the considerable shoes of Sir Terry Leahy in 2011. From ditching Leahy’s vaunted venture in the US to ousting UK boss Richard Brasher, Clarke is not afraid to make a tough call.

“Clarke began his Tesco life aged 14 stacking shelves during his school holidays in 1974”

His latest decisive move in accelerating the pace of his turnaround plan was unveiled to investors and analysts last week. Clarke hopes a £200m investment in price, taking the axe to new shop development in favour of refurbishing big-box stores and adding a raft of multichannel initiatives will drive sales growth.

The plan, which met with a muted response in the City, could define Clarke’s lengthy Tesco career as he attempts to get the giant retailer back into positive like-for-like growth in its domestic market.

Tesco milestones

2011 to present Group chief executive

2004 International director

1998 Joined the Tesco board

1995 Regional managing director

1994 Stores director

1981 Joined the graduate trainee scheme

1974 Started career at Tesco while at school

The son of a former Tesco store manager, he often speaks about his father’s opinions on the business and last week joked that he’ll get into trouble if his dad’s local store is not at the top of his store refresh programme.

Clarke began his Tesco life aged 14 stacking shelves during his school holidays in 1974 and joined its management training programme in 1981 after graduating from Liverpool University with a degree in economic history.

Nine years in store management honed Clarke’s retail skills before he took a role in buying in 1990 and, eight years later, gained a position on the board in charge of supply chain and later IT. In 2004, he became international director and oversaw operations in 11 countries as he led Tesco’s worldwide expansion.

Other speakers at Retail Week Live

  • Andy Street Managing director, John Lewis
  • Alex Baldock Group chief executive, Shop Direct
  • Sebastian James Group chief executive, Dixons
  • Euan Sutherland Group chief executive, The Co-op
  • Theo Paphitis Chairman, Ryman, owner & chairman, Robert Dyas & Boux Avenue
  • Peter Ruis Chief executive, Jigsaw
  • Tim Steiner Chief executive, Ocado
  • Martyn Gibbs Chief executive, Game
  • Bruce Daisley Managing director, Twitter UK
  • Anthony Thompson Chief executive, Fat Face
  • Holly Tucker Chief executive, Notonthehighstreet.com
  • Shingo Murakami Managing director, Rakuten’s Play.com
  • Dan Cobley Managing director UK & Ireland, Google
  • Jacques-Antoine Granjon Chief executive, Vente-privee.com

His time as chief executive has undoubtedly been tough, attempting to boost morale in a company largely used only to rising sales, store numbers and success.

He will have been buoyed by the support of former Tesco boss Lord McLaurin, who shocked the retailer’s AGM last summer with an outspoken attack on Leahy’s legacy and a call to show faith in Clarke’s leadership.

Clarke is an ardent Liverpool FC supporter, in contrast to Evertonian Leahy, and will hope his business can echo the Anfield side’s rampant form this season after a tricky few years.

Off the pitch, Clarke lives a stone’s throw from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire with his wife Linda, and he has two children. He can’t help but bring Tesco home though - he counts its cod fillet with pea and mint sauce among his favourite foods.

2014 will be a big year for Clarke, but many believe he has the nous and bravery to make the crucial calls for Tesco’s long-term future.

Book your place now

There are just a few days to go until Retail Week Live takes place (March 12 to 13), uniting everything and everyone you need to know in retail.

Network and exchange ideas with leading retailers such as Argos, Asos, Boots, Co-operative Group, Debenhams, Dixons, Fat Face, Game, Halfords, House of Fraser, Homebase, John Lewis, Mothercare, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and more.

With more than 48 hours of learning, sharing and networking, you will walk away from the event armed with knowledge, practical solutions and invaluable insights to apply to your organisation so that you can move your business and career to the next level.

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