More strife at Tesco leaves CEO Clarke out on his own

It really doesn’t get any better at Tesco – the supermarket giant is set to reveal another whopping fall in profits on April 16 (ten per cent is the consensus) and now finance director Laurie McIlwee is falling on his sword.

UnknownWhich leaves CEO Phil Clarke (left) as the only executive director on the board, which is just plain bizarre. Andrew Higginson, a former finance director and latterly head of the Tesco Bank; David Potts, UK retail director and then head of Asia; Richard Brasher, who ran the UK business; and Tim Mason, the marketing director who went on to run Fresh & Easy, the US business, have all resigned or been pushed out.

Is this any way to run a £23bn company? It used to be worth a bit more than that, of course.

Clarke, one-time IT director and international director under former CEO Sir Terry Leahy, is now terribly exposed. It seems pretty clear that McIlwee had to go as the lesser of two evils. Clarke will surely follow when the Tesco board and its biggest shareholders decide who can turn the ailing giant around. The UK, where most of Tesco’s profits come from, is hardly awash with candidates.

The most obvious one is Tim Mason, who resigned following Clarke’s decision to wind down the spectacularly loss-making Fresh & Easy business. That may be unpalatable to shareholders but Mason played a key role in building Tesco to its former dominance and would probably have got the top job if he hadn’t been tempted by the illusory delights of the West Coast.

All of this must be very worrying for, among others, Tesco’s agencies, most notably creative lead agency Wieden+Kennedy. W+K was Clarke’s appointment and he plays the client role there. If Clarke goes the agency will probably cop it.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.