It was The Grocer that christened Dave Lewis ‘Drastic Dave’. He was taking his axe to Unilever’s UK business at the time. The name has stuck. And looking at the drastic measures taken by Lewis at Tesco in the past six months, he’s been living up to his name, culling jobs, closing stores (and the head office), disposing of non-core businesses, cancelling projects, as well as axing the final salary pension scheme. 

“Maybe it’s time Drastic Dave were given a new nickname. How about Lazarus Lewis?”

But maybe it’s time for a new nickname. How about Lazarus Lewis? In little more than three months, and under conditions that were far worse than he could ever have imagined, Lewis rediscovered the pulse in the Tesco patient and surprised colleagues, rivals and the City with the speed with which he breathed new life into the business over the key Christmas trading period. Simply by improving availability and service. 

The momentum has continued to build. A January initiative to make sharp but selective price cuts has paid for itself. And having proved his concept for front-loaded sales negotiations, it’s time for the next phase in Tesco’s rebirth. 

In an exclusive interview, Lewis outlines his vision to dramatically reset supplier relations

In fact Lewis’s plans for suppliers mirrors the overall strategy, which involves: drawing a line under the sand (or putting Tesco’s transgressions of the past behind it); focusing on the customer (instead of putting all its efforts into securing maximum levels of commercial income); and simplifying its operations (including, in this case, the way in which Tesco does business with its supplier partners). 

To those three objectives, I would add transparency and a focus on better execution. But Lewis has a real sense of clarity in what he’s doing. And as a strategy it’s compelling. 

Anyone can cut heads. Cruel as it sounds, that’s the easy part. But whether it’s Drastic Dave at Tesco, Pistol Potts at Morrisons or Brutal Buffett at Kraft/Heinz, the skill is in achieving more from less. That’s the bit CEOs get paid for. That will determine if Lewis is Lazarus. Or a lame duck.