Dave Lewis

Source: David Bebber/WWF-UK

What will Sir Dave Lewis do for CD&R? It is a January signing rich with possibilities. And no little intrigue. As a new operating adviser to the US private equity giant it unites the saviour of Tesco with Sir Terry Leahy, his illustrious predecessor-but-one, whose strategy and approach he unpicked to no small degree.

It also offers the prospect of a welcome return for Lewis to a more hands-on role in the sector, having taken a back seat via various non-exec roles, most notably as chair of Haleon, the GSK consumer healthcare spinoff.

What that involvement entails, CD&R doesn’t exactly say. But Morrisons suppliers would certainly welcome a new approach to trading, while falling sales hardly help trading teams struggling to compete on price, quality or availability, and store managers operate the complex Market Street offer with vastly reduced resources and an ageing customer base.

What Morrisons urgently needs is oxygen, of which it’s been starved through balance sheet strictures introduced by… CD&R. And it’s hard to see how oxygen can be pumped into the business without selling off the much-vaunted but increasingly unprofitable integrated supply chain, or at least parts of it. Here again Lewis could maximise valuations from his supplier knowledge (while persuading banks to renegotiate covenants).

But one should not underestimate the likely part that CD&R’s Vindi Banga played in his appointment. Banga was at Unilever for 33 years and, as well as being executive board member and president of Global Foods, Home & Personal Care, led Unilever’s sustainability agenda long before it became fashionable. He moved to CD&R in 2010 and, as operating partner, heads up its European consumer, retail, healthcare business services arm. He’s also a non-exec director of… Haleon.

So I’m expecting Lewis to leave Leahy to sort out Morrisons with its likeable, energetic new CEO Rami Baitiéh, while focusing on finding fmcg businesses, as he’s doing with Haleon, that CD&R can invest in and grow. As suppliers struggle to regain volumes, the market is tailor-made for a turnaround specialist. Arise Sir Dave.