For­mer Tesco boss Leahy blasts suc­ces­sor Clarke for ‘ac­tively at­tack­ing own busi­ness’

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page - By Lucy Bur­ton

FOR­MER Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy has launched an ex­tra­or­di­nary at­tack on his suc­ces­sor Philip Clarke claim­ing that he “ac­tively at­tacked” the UK’S largest re­tailer while in the top job.

Sir Terry, who left Tesco in 2011, used a rare in­ter­view to pin the blame for the su­per­mar­ket gi­ant’s prob­lems on Mr Clarke, whom he says “made a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble er­ror” by agree­ing with Tesco’s crit­ics and slat­ing the com­pany dur­ing his ten­ure. “He stood up and ac­tively at­tacked his own busi­ness – the stores are too big, they’re over­heat­ing.

“I mean for the staff in the busi­ness who ded­i­cated their life … to be told af­ter all these years that this busi­ness was no good was ab­so­lutely flawed,” he told Re­tail Week. “They lost con­fi­dence. Once the leader of a busi­ness at­tacks his own busi­ness, there’s no way back.”

A Tesco lifer hav­ing started his ca­reer stack­ing shelves at his lo­cal store in Wir­ral dur­ing the Seven­ties, Mr Clarke re­placed Sir Terry in 2011 but was ousted in 2014 af­ter the re­tailer was plunged into cri­sis. His time in charge was marred by fall­ing sales, profit warn­ings, the horse­meat scan­dal and the rev­e­la­tion of a £250m ac­count­ing black hole. Tesco re­ported a £6.4bn loss, the worst re­sults in its his­tory, a year af­ter he left.

Sir Terry, who ran the com­pany for 14 years, said that un­der Mr Clarke’s watch Tesco fell into the trap of agree­ing with the re­tailer’s crit­ics in­stead of try­ing to fix the key is­sues.

“Tesco had al­ways had its crit­ics be­cause it did break down class bar­ri­ers and there are some peo­ple in so­ci­ety who like class bar­ri­ers,” he said.

“You were never go­ing to per­suade these peo­ple to like Tesco and, fa­tally, Phil and the new chair­man [Sir Richard Broad­bent] seemed to think, ‘if we agree with what these peo­ple have been say­ing about us, they’ll like us’.”

This is not the first time the for­mer Tesco high flier has pub­licly crit­i­cised his re­place­ment. In 2015 he told the BBC’S Panorama pro­gramme that the trust of mil­lions of cus­tomers had been “eroded” due to a fail­ure of lead­er­ship.

Mr Clarke hit back at his com­ments at the time by claim­ing that Tesco “faced a num­ber of crit­i­cal chal­lenges” which had been build­ing for years.

He was ini­tially sup­port­ive of Mr Clarke, telling The Daily Tele­graph a year af­ter he handed over the ba­ton that the new chief ex­ec­u­tive was “his own man – which is a very good thing” and “has to play it how he sees it”.

Tesco de­clined to com­ment while Mr Clarke could not be reached.

Terry Leahy be­lieves Philip Clarke’s de­ci­sion to crit­i­cise the su­per­mar­ket gi­ant was a ma­jor er­ror of judge­ment

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