Roger Burnley’s appointment as Asda’s new chief executive doesn’t come with any element of surprise but it still marks an important juncture in the retailer’s recent history.
Burnley was initially brought in from Sainsbury’s a year ago as chief commercial officer and deputy chief executive and it was an open secret that the plan was for him to eventually succeed Sean Clarke as the main man.
It says much about the high regard in which Burnley is held by industry peers that Sainsbury’s colleagues were gutted to lose him and rival grocers will be respectful of his ability to build on the foundations that Clarke has laid since he joined the UK business from Walmart China.
Clarke deserves a huge amount of credit for the work he has done in the past 15 months. He joined a business that was deep in the mire, had lost focus and stopped doing the basics well. It must have been tough reporting quarter upon quarter of sales declines while Asda’s big four rivals Tesco and Morrisons were back in growth and taking the battle to the discounters; but Clarke kept his head down, simplified the strategy to focus on price, range and service and leaves at a time when the first green shoots of recovery are starting to show.
Burnley now has firm foundations in place from which to build a newly successful Asda. And he has the distinct benefit of being able to hit the ground running, having worked closely with Clarke on Asda’s strategy since his return to his native Yorkshire.
Often new CEOs come in and want to tear up the rulebook, but there’s little chance of that happening with Burnley. He is a sensible, no-nonsense operator who doesn’t add unnecessary complexity to the business of selling groceries and will listen closely to his staff and respond to the needs of Asda shoppers.
This is in part what makes him popular figure among colleagues, not least those on the shop floor. He also happens to be a down to earth guy with a good sense of humour.
I’ve no doubt Burnley will be successful in his new role; but if Asda does, as I expect, continue along the road to recovery, Burnley will be the first to acknowledge the role Clarke has played in turning the ship around.