Why did Tesco.com’s leading lady walk from Tesco just two weeks after her elevation to the retailer’s UK executive committee? Rob Brown reports

Laura Wade-Gery brought a “fizz of energy and enthusiasm” to Tesco Towers, says Tesco.com’s head of R&D Nick Lansley.

Well, on Monday evening things went flat when M&S announced it had convinced the former Tesco.com boss to take on the new role of executive director for multichannel and e-commerce. “I’m just a bit stunned,” blogged Lansley after the announcement. “No, I’m a lot stunned,”

With good reason. As leading lady at Tesco.com, Wade-Gery had presided over meteoric online sales growth, delivering £136m profit in the last financial year alone. Coming just a fortnight after her promotion to commercial director for non-food and her appointment to Tesco’s UK executive committee, Wade-Gery’s departure will have caused more than a few red faces at Tesco. It certainly shocked the City Tesco shares dipped 6.1 points on Tuesday; M&S climbed 13.5. But why did she walk?

Regularly tipped as a potential successor to Sir Terry Leahy before Philip Clarke landed the top role last year, many were surprised when Wade-Gery did not win a place on the main board last month. Commentators suggest this may have played a part in her decision to move. “She’s going to be a main board director at M&S in that respect she’s getting a higher profile,” says Clive Black, head of research at Shore Capital.

Lansley suggests another motive. “She’s not the kind of person to have her nose put out of joint,” he says. “In October when we were preparing for Christmas she said she had ‘the best job in Tesco’ leading e-commerce.

“Her heart is in e-commerce. Her head said she should take on this new role and move onwards and upwards in Tesco but I don’t think her heart followed. Now she’s taking her head and her heart. They’ll be a formidable team.”

The scale of the challenges she faces are equally daunting. With M&S still small fry online with web sales currently at £413m, M&S boss Marc Bolland is targeting growth to between £800m and £1bn by 2014. One of the biggest online growth opportunities for the retailer is in grocery because the size, position and lack of car parking of many of its stores serve as a barrier to larger basket sizes for food shoppers.

“It falls between two stools in that respect,” says Black. “M&S is particularly poised to benefit from grocery online. What will be interesting is if she brings a quicker programme of work with respect to grocery.”

Great things are already expected of her. Wade-Gery’s appointment has been universally hailed as a coup. “She’s an amazing hire absolutely world class,” says Jon Midmer, a headhunter at MBS Group. “Putting someone of that calibre on their board really puts out a serious message to the market that they are serious about developing a best-in-class multichannel business.” There could be another, longer-term motive, too, for Bolland. “Potentially he’s bringing in people who have long-term succession potential,” he adds.

So M&S’s gain is undoubtedly Tesco’s loss. And with fresh food director Colin Holmes and Lance Batchelor, head of Tesco Mobile, both having upped sticks since Clarke was named as Sir Terry’s successor, Wade-Gery’s departure has reignited talk of a brain drain at Britain’s biggest retailer.

But with Wade-Gery being replaced as Tesco.com boss by Ken Towle, who oversaw Tesco’s expansion in China in the past five years, and former Tesco Hungary CEO Per Bank filling the gap she’s left in her latest role, Tesco has no shortage of talent.

“Tesco’s still a talent magnet and a global powerbase,” says Midmer. “It’s still got some of the best executives and non-executives in the world.”

“A formidable lady” Laura Wade-Gery


7 Jan, 2011: Named executive director for multichannel and e-commerce, M&S
2004 - 2011: CEO, Tesco.com 2000 2003: Group strategy director, Tesco
1997 - 2000: Targeted marketing director, Tesco
1993 - 1997: Manager, Gemini Consulting
1987 - 1991: Investment banker, Kleinwort Benson


1991 - 1992: MBA, INSEAD
1983 - 1987: BA, History, University of Oxford


In 1986 Wade-Gery traced the first half of Marco Polo’s 13th century voyage from Palestine to China with travel writer William Dalrymple.

In the resulting book, In Xanadu, he described her as “a formidable lady, frighteningly intelligent, physically tough, and if not conventionally beautiful then at least sturdily handsome”.