The question of who will lead the critical next phase of Tesco’s domestic revival was answered this week when Charles Wilson was confirmed as the new UK & Ireland chief executive.
If Wilson’s appointment was a fillip for shareholders, the departure of incumbent Matt Davies will surely be a source of some regret. Davies has done a fabulous job since joining from Halfords three years ago, transforming the quality of the service proposition and regaining trust in a brand that was fast losing equity.
When he joined I, along with many others, saw him as the natural heir to Dave Lewis. But the Booker deal, and the retention of Charles Wilson as part of it has changed everything.
Wilson was always going to land a top job having been tied down for at least five years as part of the terms of the merger. And although they’ve worked together effectively for a year, the business was never going to be able to support two such talented and ambitious business leaders.
Wilson just happens to be the perfect fit to lead the next stage of Tesco’s transformation. For a business of Tesco’s immense size, you don’t require a hands-on person, but rather a brilliant strategist that can steer the business through the challenges it will face.
One such challenge will be the equal pay case that has surfaced this week, but another is the integration of the Booker business with Tesco. Nobody knows Booker better than Wilson and with a year to build an insider’s knowledge of Tesco there is no stronger candidate to deliver a frictionless merger.
It’s been noted countless times that Wilson possesses a brilliant retail mind, but he’s also a terrific and loyal boss. I know from personal experience how well he looks after his own – one executive I placed at Booker way back in 2001 is still thriving within the business.
He is a challenging boss, who will continually push his team to deliver results but will still be there to offer support when needed.
Wilson arguably changed the course of British wholesaling by negotiating the Tesco deal. As a consequence, other large wholesalers are looking to join forces with major retailers – they realise that it’s the only way they will survive in the new grocery landscape.
Wilson’s ascent should in no way reflect badly on Davies. It’s a rare thing for a business to have two such exceptional internal candidates vying for the same role. If Wilson had left, I’ve no doubt Davies would have continued to make a huge success of leading the business forward.
As it is, he leaves Tesco with three years’ experience of successfully managing the country’s biggest retailer to add to his already impressive CV. Businesses will be queuing up to secure his services now that Davies is a free agent.