>>They won’t stop trying, but are they capable of…

>>THE ISSUES THAT MATTER, FROM THE PEOPLE INVOLVEDWhere the glass ceiling’s in pieces

from David Smith, people director, Asda

So. Just a matter of days into the new year and you can already see that one of our key predictions for 2005 is proving to be bang on the money.
Last week, we said that the troubles at Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer, and the Safeway indigestion suffered by Morrisons, would all play into the hands of Tesco. We posed a simple question: ‘Is Tesco now an unstoppable force’? Judging by the Christmas trading statements released by its rivals, the answer is all too obvious. As our TradeTrak figures on p19 show, Tesco came close to hitting a market share of 30% at Christmas.
The TradeTrak figures also show a handful of other retailers continuing to do well. Waitrose had a stonking Christmas and Asda is trading strongly, albeit not with the same double-digit rate it used to enjoy. The figures we publish this week may also offer a few crumbs of comfort for Sainsbury - with its performance in grocery having bounced back to 16.8% from the all-time low it hit in the summer, while penetration figures held up well.
Yet our key question for 2005 remains unanswered: who is going to stop Tesco? At the moment, I am not sure anybody can. I am not sure, for that matter, that they can even slow the juggernaut, never mind bring it to a halt.
Waitrose is, rightly, ploughing its own furrow. Sainsbury and Morrisons are going to be focused on some pretty chunky internal issues this year. And while Asda would clearly love to take the fight to Tesco, it needs to get its hands on more stores to close the gap. It bought some this week. But such deals are few and far between. Perhaps - as we said last year - Asda should buy the Safeway business in Northern Ireland from Morrisons?
Despite the very different issues they all face, Asda, Sainsbury and Morrisons are not going to stop trying to slow the Tesco juggernaut. Competition between the Big Four supermarket chains has been hotting up for the past 12 months. And as The Grocer Price Index on p5 shows, grocery prices remain under intense pressure as the industry faces up to the fact it has locked itself into a very dangerous deflationary spiral. One that will be hard to break. In such a climate, tensions inevitably run high. A few months ago, I wrote about the palpable sense of Tesco Envy that was pervading this industry. When Sir Terry Leahy releases his figures next week, there is no doubt that most of his rivals will be left feeling pretty green.
Sir; I am happy to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Simon Howard in last week’s edition of The Grocer.
In his article ‘A shatterproof ceiling’ (The Grocer, January 8, p68), he bemoaned the lack of women in high profile roles with retail companies.
Reading it certainly surprised me and I am sure that it caused Angela Spindler, our trading and marketing director, Christine Watts, our corporate affairs director, Caroline Massingham, our retail people director and Judith McKenna, our finance director, to raise an eyebrow or two.
At Asda we are home to some of the brightest talent in the retail industry and, while we won’t be diverted from the principle that it should be the right person for the job regardless of gender, we feel proud that so many women are in leadership positions across our business. In fact, at Asda there are almost 10,000 women managers and I’m convinced that women who want an exciting job with real leadership prospects know the retail industry is the place to come.
The fact that more than half of our crop of graduate recruits - the business leaders of the future - are women is testament to this.
So whether it be my colleague Sheena Forde, food trading director for Wal-Mart’s Japanese operation, the Seiyu Group, or Eleanor Doohan, Asda’s head of commercial law, or Sally Hopson, who runs our operation in Scotland, day after day we see women, often the cream of home-grown talent, rise to top.
So when Mr Howard asks me, “Is there anything wrong in the grocery trade?”, I’d say that I hope our actions speak louder than our words.
stopping the juggernaut