It isn’t so surprising that Tesco CEO Phil Clarke is stepping down after three gruesome years in charge of the giant retailer.
But it is surprising that his replacement is not another retailer but Dave Lewis (left), president of Unilever’s Personal Care business.
Lewis, a Unilever lifer, is a marketer by background but has also run Unilever businesses in the Far East. He has also been chairman of Unilever in the UK and Ireland.
The key connection with Tesco, which Lewis has surely wrestled with in his time, is Patrick Cescau, a former CEO of Unilever who is currently a non-executive at Tesco. Cescau presumably guaranteed that Lewis was up to the job, which he will now undertake with newly-appointed finance director Alan Stewart, recently of Marks & Spencer.
As for Clarke, he has paid the price for three years of under-performance. At first it was possible to put this down to the legacy inherited from predecessor Sir Terry Leahy but the news has only become worse, even though Clarke took big decisions such as closing the company’s ill-fated Fresh & Easy operation in the US.
One company awaiting its first meeting with Lewis with more than the usual degree of interest will be ad agency Wieden+Kennedy. W+K was appointed by Clarke to succeed Lowe breakaway The Red Brick Road on the £140m account. So far it hasn’t produced the kind of over-arching brand campaign for Tesco that it routinely produces for its other clients who include Arla Foods, Honda and Three.
But Tesco chose to stick with its ‘Every Little Helps’ slogan, invented by Lowe years ago, and concentrated on price ads to fend off German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl.
Lewis has a fine record as a client at Unilever, being the ultimate boss of campaigns including BBH’s various efforts for Axe/Lynx and Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ from WPP’s Ogilvy.
BBH also handles Waitrose so, presumably, won’t be in the market for Tesco. WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell has been trying to win Tesco for decades and the Ogilvy connection certainly won’t be lost on him.
W+K, however, is also the kind of agency likely to appeal to Lewis. But with such dramatic changes in train at Tesco an ad review in a few months’ time looks more likely than not.