If you had been listening hard enough yesterday evening, you could just about hear the collective groan of the nation’s business journalists as Tesco released a statement confirming that John Allan had been appointed as its new chairman.
The reaction had little to do with Allan per se, but more to do with who didn’t get the job, Archie Norman to be precise.
The idea of Norman, who along with Allan Leighton, was the driving force behind the rise and rise of Asda during the 1990’s, signing for Tesco in the grocer’s hour of need was the stuff of hacks’ dreams (myself included).
Allan is far less of a known quantity either in the media or amongst city analysts so it is understandable the reaction to his appointment has been rather lukewarm.
However the fervour with which the idea of an Archie Norman/Dave Lewis dream ticket was greeted was also way over the top. In a successful company the chairman’s function beyond the regulatory and corporate governance duties is to offer strategic support to the CEO, who must ultimately take responsibility for performance.
In the case of Tesco, Dave Lewis already looks like a very steady and decisive leader who is prepared to make quick and tough steps to get a grip on what has gone wrong and begin steering the company back to where it needs to be.
Of course, Lewis will need support and his lack of retail experience was flagged as a reason for the need to appoint someone like Norman. But while Allan’s direct grocery experience at Fine Fare ended 30 years ago, his time with Dixons and crucially his role in the turnaround at that business would suggest his knows a thing or two about retail.
The situation however casts an interesting spotlight on rival Morrisons’ situation, where chairman Andy Higginson is currently having to play a much more hands on role, having decided that Dalton Philips time as CEO was up.
The big grocers all need at least one retail heavyweight and Higginson is at least filling that role, looking to undo some of the decisions of the Philips era. In such a competitive climate as the one the grocery industry finds itself in, it will be fascinating to see how hands on he will remain once he has appointed a new chief exec.