We need more marketers as chief executives says Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy

He used to be one himself of course and Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco was pulling no punches as he told a business audience in London that “there should be more marketers as CEOs” because “the customer is a great place to build a business from and so understanding the customer and how to keep them is a strength for a business.”

As marketing director of Tesco Sir Terry embarked on the great Clubcard adventure, which gives Tesco more information on its customers than any other business enjoys, and also appointed Lowe Howard-Spink to produce quirky, humorous but also elegant advertising that played a huge part in moving the company away from its ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ image.

Sir Terry is in the process of stepping down from the, by now, global retail giant in favour of Philip Clarke, the company’s international and IT director who has also done his time in marketing. Leahy’s successor as marketing director, Tim Mason, was the favourite to succeed him until he went off to launch Tesco’s Fresh & Easy operation in the US.

Marketing directors have been overlooked in favour of other boardroom animals, particularly financial directors, as CEOs in recent years. Many outfits have even made the top marketing position a non-boardroom role, most recently at the BBC.

This is partly due to the perception that they can’t add up or measure risk accurately (former Asda marketer Andy Hornby at Halifax is often mentioned in the latter context). We are only just emerging from a period when companies thought that financial engineering was much more important than adding and retaining customers.

Critics will say that running a supermarket group, even a whopper like Tesco, is essentially a more simple matter than running many businesses where, among other problems, you have to deal with the buying power and other brutal attributes of big supermarket groups.

But Sir Terry is a powerful advocate to have on your side of the argument.

I wonder if current Tesco marketing director Carolyn Bradley was in the audience?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.