As Dave Lewis reaches his first anniversary as chief executive of Tesco, it is fair to say he’s had a pretty tough year.

As Dave Lewis reaches his first anniversary as chief executive of Tesco, it is fair to say he’s had a pretty tough year.

He knew the job would be tough, but the size of the challenge has only increased since he originally signed up for the role leading one of the UK’s largest and most prestigious retailers.

In the last 12 months, Dave has had to deal with the most dramatic 12 months in Tesco’s 96-year history.

Since his start, he’s discovered a major accounting scandal, suffered the sharpest fall in like-for-like sales for a generation, had to work with a changing board and had to report a pre-tax loss for the year – £6.4bn, the biggest in its history and one of the biggest in corporate history.

And the challenge continues as recent currency changes threaten to disrupt the sale of Tesco’s Korean business.

This situation provides an opportunity to reflect on turnaround leadership.

How has he come across as a leader? What can other leaders in a turnaround situation learn from him?

In many ways his style has been ideal for a turnaround – strong, decisive yet considered. 

Below are seven ‘keys to 12-month success’ which Lewis has done well.

  • He’s been very focused making the business customer-centric.
  • He’s connected with the staff from his first day to bring them along on the journey
  • He’s devised a strategy
  • He’s not been afraid to make some big decisions. He’s tackled big problems head-on. He’s taking action one-step at a time.
  • He’s led in alignment with values that are important in today’s world. He’s listened, he’s been open, honest and fair.
  • He’s stayed strong, resilient and calm in the face of adversity. 

While many acknowledge that Lewis has done well in the first 12 months, the journey to turn Tesco around is a long one. And whilst he has begun well well, the jury is still out about if the turnaround will work. The proof is in the pudding, and there’s not enough proof yet.

The last leadership - and seventh point - is that Dave Lewis has instilled an initial level of belief.

It seems that he believes in himself and that others have belief in him as a leader and belief in the turnaround of Tesco.

There must be times over this first year, when his own strength of resolve and mindset has wavered.

With the dynamics of online and the growth of discounters, the market has changed for good. Tesco’s place and level of success in the changed world is unclear.

But whatever is or isn’t possible, Dave Lewis needs to stay strong.

If he continues to believe, and continues to chip away at the task, others can continue to believe in him, the turnaround remains possible, and the City can keep faith. 

  • Martin Palethorpe is a senior executive coach specialising in retail at The Pragma Group