The Grocer-Dave Lewis-28

Dave Lewis took the job in 2014

2014: Dave’s arrival

The year prior to Lewis’ arrival, Tesco had reached a sales peak of £70.9bn with CEO Philip Clarke at the helm. But Clarke was struggling to keep hold of share with the rapid growth of Aldi and Lidl across the UK and faced the axe. Subsequently, Unilever’s president of personal care Dave Lewis was brought in to stem the losses. 

2014: Overstated profits scandal

In a baptism of fire, just three weeks into his new role, Lewis uncovered a £325m profits overstatement in the previous financial year’s accounts. The boss suspended four senior execs, filed a report to the Financial Conduct Authority and called in a team of forensic accountants to scrutinise the books. 

2015: Profits plunge

The scandal ricocheted into a staggering £6.4bn drop in profits for the retailer, one of the biggest in its history. But Lewis was already addressing its availability issues, reviewing its ranging and pricing, and working to address its battered supplier relations and brand reputation as part of his turnaround plan. 

2015: Project Reset

Tesco’s range had racked up to an enormous 90,000 SKUs and, in comparison to the now rampant discounters, prices were high. Lewis kicked off his fightback dubbed Project Reset, to cut back the range and lower and simplify pricing.  

tesco farms

Tesco was slated for inventing misleading “fake farms”

2016: Farm brands

When Lewis announced his new Tesco’s Farms branding plan for own-label it was met with controversy. The retailer was slated for inventing misleading “fake farms” and the National Farmers Union even lodged a formal complaint with trading standards. Despite the backlash, the concept seemed to work for consumers and Lewis credited it with Tesco’s sales increase. 

2017: Grocer Gold

The “Herculean” turnaround of Tesco saw Lewis take to the stage at The Grocer Gold Awards to collect the award for Grocer of the Year.

On the win, editor of The Grocer Adam Leyland said: “Tesco will be the first to say there is more work to be done, but to get Tesco firing again has taken a Herculean effort from everyone involved at the supermarket, from the boardroom to the shop floor. This award is thoroughly well-deserved.”

Dave Lewis picked up the  2017 Grocer of the Year gong for Tesco

Dave Lewis picked up the 2017 Grocer of the Year gong for Tesco

2017: Booker

The market was stunned by Tesco’s merger with Booker, the biggest wholesaler in the UK. The enormous £3.9bn share and cash merger aimed to “delight consumers with better availability of quality food at attractive prices across retail and eating out locations” (while creating synergies of around £200m a year).

The deal was threatened at the 11th hour by Booker shareholders Sandell Asset Management, who said the premium Tesco was offering was “well below average” – but 83% of Booker shareholders disagreed, voting in favour of the new empire

2018: Little Helps plan  

What gets measured gets managed. A year after the plan was launched Lewis released the retailer’s 35 KPIs to address issues with climate change, packaging, sourcing, health, food waste and staff. As a result of the plan, the retailer stripped out 2,900 tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic from its own-label ranges, and donated 62.7 million meals worth of surplus to local charities and community groups in 2018/19. 

Dave Lewis Jack's Launch

Lewis took the opportunity to trial new formats, ranges and pricing within the test bed of Jack’s stores

2018: Jack’s

Lewis has always maintained that the discount format is a “celebration of the centenary of Tesco” but many took the Union Jack-plastered stores to be a head-on assault on the discounters. The stores are on the small side and are packed with a tight range of own-label ‘Jack’s’ products coupled with cheap prices. Lewis took the opportunity to trial new formats, ranges and pricing within the test bed of Jack’s stores. But not every experiment is successful: Lewis recently canned a bulk buy proposition that was on trial in its ninth Jack’s location in Rawtenstall, and is changing it back to a Tesco in November. 

2019: Staff restructure

Across his tenure, Lewis had already cut more than 10,000 jobs across the business including managers, GM service counter workers and call centre staff, but there were more to come. In January, reports emerged that the retailer looked to axe many butcher, fishmonger and cheese counters from its estate in an effort to reduce costs by £1.5bn by 2020. The move resulted in at least 4,500 job losses, however Tesco was today at pains to point out that it has 220,000 in store roles, exactly the same as when he took over in 2014. 

Dave Lewis tesco 1

Lewis: ‘I have no doubt that Tesco will kick on again under new leadership next year’

2019: Dave’s departure

Lewis announced that he will be leaving the business after six years next summer. He’ll be replaced by Walgreens Boots Alliance chief commercial officer Ken Murphy. Lewis described his decision to leave as a “personal one”. 

“I have no doubt that Tesco will kick on again under new leadership next year. When that time comes, I will watch progress from outside with interest, deep affection and pride. In the meantime, you can be sure that I will give the job everything I have until my very last day.”