One of the benefits of having a long succession plan is that the incoming chief executive can formulate his strategy well in advance of actually taking the job.

Take the case of Roger Burnley, who has wasted little time in unveiling a raft of new hires and promotions at Asda that have clearly been some time in the planning.

Preyash Thakrar will join imminently as chief strategy officer from Walmart Canada, reporting directly to Burnley, while Asda has also drafted in ex-Carrefour executive Jesús Lorente as its new chief merchandising officer.

The changes that stand out most to me, however, are those that involve former colleagues of Burnley’s from Sainsbury’s. The promotion of Anthony Hemmerdinger from vice-president of retail South to the role of senior vice-president, retail operations director is particularly striking.

Burnley said in an email to staff that Hemmerdinger had made “a tremendous difference” in his 18 months with Asda, which will come as no surprise to those who have worked with him in the past.

“Food retailing stays in the blood and many people find they miss the fast-paced working environment that is rarely replicated in other industries”

Hemmerdinger was highly rated at Sainsbury’s, where he held the role of zone managing director from 2007 to 2011 before returning in 2013 as managing director of telecoms.

He left grocery briefly for a role at the pub group Greene King before returning 18 months later to become Asda’s vice-president of retail South.

In the blood

Hemmerdinger wouldn’t be the first grocer to come running back after a brief spell away from the sector. Food retailing stays in the blood and many people find they miss the fast-paced working environment that is rarely replicated in other industries.

A high-quality retail operator with great people skills, Hemmerdinger is as comfortable on the shop floor as he is in the boardroom and has a very rounded experience spanning operations and head office.

Burnley has also returned to Sainsbury’s to poach Jodie Tate as his vice-president of central retail.

Tate’s career progression has been rapid, having joined Sainsbury’s as a graduate trainee in 2005 and working her way up the ladder via store and area management roles, culminating in her current position as Sainsbury’s zone managing director for the North.

In no time at all, Burnley’s leadership team has the look of a formidable outfit and I fully expect the competition to start noticing a new sense of purpose about Asda in the weeks and months ahead.



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