Today’s excellent FT piece says that Archie Norman is now the front runner to be the new Chairman of Tesco. On the face of it, he should be the dream appointee. He is outstanding. A combination of strategic intellect and practical nous made him stand out many years back when he became the CFO of Woolworths (the precursor of Kingfisher) on secondment from McKinsey. He went to mastermind the turnaround of Asda and successful sale to Wal-Mart. He has spent his time since in and outside retailing but Archie has all the weight and judgement the Chairman of the UK’s most important private sector employer should have.
Nevertheless, I have some reservations. Archie will have some very clear views around strategy and execution. He will also have formed a clear opinion around the cultural adjustments that are undoubtedly essential in order to turn Tesco around. Will these all coincide exactly with those Dave Lewis has already formed and started to execute? And when they don’t, whose will prevail? Will Archie be comfortable sitting back letting Dave lead? And to the extent that he does get more involved than any non-retail Chairman could, how will Dave feel about that?
I can’t pretend I know the answers to these questions but I am 100% certain they are fundamental, and the answers will determine whether this will be a successful appointment, assuming it happens anyway. I just cannot see Archie playing an essentially subsidiary leadership role. Without in any way denigrating the promising start Dave Lewis has made, Archie would have made an excellent CEO for Tesco, and therein lies the potential problem.
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