After possibly the most eventful seven weeks in charge of any boss in the world this year, save perhaps Louis Van Gaal, Tesco’s CEO took to the stage today to present the interim results we’ve all been waiting for.
Par for the course with Tesco recently, the day began with a 7am announcement that things were even worse than we thought – the black hole in the finances was not £250m, but £265m, and it went back over at least two years.
But if Dave Lewis was feeling the heat, he certainly didn’t show it. The former Unilever man confidently tackled first hordes of City analysts and then the baying press pack with something of a skip in his step.
Granted there are some who think that Tesco lurching from one disaster to another might privately suit the new man – after all, a bit like following David Moyes, things can surely only get better, and what went on the previous two years was nothing to do with him, gov.
That particular conspiracy theory aside, what stood out today was the sheer poise of Lewis, as well as his new CFO Alan Stewart – especially when contrasted against the increasing desperation one has sensed among the Tesco leadership in recent times.
Philip Clarke, even at his most troubled, always exuded passion for Tesco, but he often appeared far from comfortable when under the cosh from the press or the City.
When an irate Channel 4 broadcaster, furious at being snubbed in favour of ITN and the BBC, confronted embattled chairman Sir Richard Broadbent today, you almost expected him to hide under the table.
But Lewis, if today is anything to go by, is a different kettle of fish.
He described with considerable flourish how a weekend of chaos at Tesco HQ in September, following the discovery of the black hole, ended with a call to his rival boss at M&S, to beg for reinforcements in the form of CFO Alan Stewart, then busy tending his garden.
“I’d really like to say than you to Marc Bolland. He couldn’t have been more helpful and professional,” said Lewis.
Later he described how he was single-handedly going about transforming the travelling habits of Tesco executives, having ordered the sale of the retailer’s private jets, while urging bosses to follow his lead and take the train wherever possible. “Have I noticed a difference in the behaviour of staff? Yes, I have,” he said.
And when it came to dealing with the rank and file, Lewis was equally entertaining, explaining how he had addressed some 3,000 staff and waded through 2,000 emails advising him on what he should do to rescue Tesco in his first week.
This is of course still Lewis’ honeymoon period. And it won’t last for long unless he can walk the walk as well as he talks the talk. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to show that he can in the next few weeks, as he tackles the vital Christmas period with his frontline UK commercial team on the sidelines, the shadow of an FCA investigation hanging over him, and sales going in the wrong direction.
But much of what Lewis spoke about today was competitive advantage, and the sense was that at least when it comes to the style of the man at the helm, Tesco now has an important one of those on its side.