Saturday, 17 March 2012

Andre Villas Brasher

So another of the legendary triumvirate is ushered out with the shock departure this week of Richard Brasher. Like Chelsea's ex-Manager, Brasher faced the unenviable task of overhauling an ageing team (stores) set up by a club legend and mentor (Leahy). In the end, his boss sensed public disaffection and took steps to avoid the heat landing on his own door step.

I'm a big admirer of Brasher. My first job in New Tesco House was as an administrator in possibly the greatest retail marketing team ever assembled. At its helm was Richard Brasher, sat in his goldfish bowl office in the middle of the mezz floor. He treated everyone with the same respect, listened to everyone's views and wore his heart on his sleeve. He once told us of his pride that 75 people in his marketing team were running rings around the better-funded and heavier manpowered opposition. This team had taken Tesco to number one and the foundations they laid helped to establish a market dominance unseen in the UK. These were glory days.

Philip Clarke possibly made a big mistake putting Brasher in charge of the UK business. Running that unit is all about shops and Brasher was very much an office man. Clarke has got form with the UK business and I would expect him to focus on the ops side of things while he has the UK reins.

Clarke shares many similarities with his namesake up in Leeds. Both are clearly entrenched in the history and cultures of their respective businesses, yet neither seem to have the loyalty and respect internally that you'd expect. They are both struggling to get away from looming shadows from past leaders (Archie Norman and Terry Leahy) and, tellingly, both have well respected former colleagues lurking on the other side of the Atlantic.

While Dave Cheesewright has new international remits that will allow him to meddle in UK affairs, Phil Clarke has Tim Mason to potentially worry about. Like Cheesewright, Tim seems to be enjoying North American life and certainly seems to be enjoying the challenges of making a success out Fresh & Easy. Tim is a great retailer who obsesses about the customer - a key element that's needed to turn round the UK business. However, Fresh & Easy looks to be gaining momentum and after the investment pumped in, Clarke may be happy to keep Mason working his magic several thousand miles away from Cheshunt.

Clarke's priorities are many in the UK. He needs first and foremost to get the stores right, but he also needs to fundamentally reshape the PR team as well. The healthy paranoia that drove Tesco's success (assume someone else is doing your job better than you are somewhere) has become an unhealthy one and nowhere moreso than in the PR department. To hear a spokesman get hammered by 5Live's Peter Allen over the Workfare debacle was shocking - rather than do good PR and highlight the amazing opportunities that Tesco gives hundreds of thousands of employees, he went into a full-on "no comment" and avoidance tactics. On this form, they'd invent a cure for cancer and turn it into a PR disaster!

It's a big 6 months coming up for Clarke - starting with Easter. Who knows what will happen if Brasher has sacrificed himself in vain....

1 comment:

  1. Yes the workfare debacle was handled badly by the PR team, in fact its a textbook example of how not to do it, but surely the fundamental problem is the scheme itself. Its clearly being used mainly as a way to get a bit of free labour into stores. That's bad for business in two ways.

    Firsly you get a poorly motivated store team, why should someone working for free care about store standards? In fact as a manager I'd be worried about the potential for sabotage and shrinkage from disgruntled individuals.

    Secondly you alienate customers who think the whole workfare programme is fundamentally wrong. It's yet another issue where Tesco have allowed others, especially Waitrose, Sainsburys and the Co Ops to open up clear blue sky on ethical issues.

    I originally stopped doing my main shop in Tesco years ago due to declining store and product standards. I now try to avoid stepping foot at all in their stores due to a number of issues from workfare to animal welfare and planning.

    Its a common mistake with controversial issues like workfare for firms to think that the problem lies with poor PR when actually the problem is the policy itself.