Tesco firefighter Dave Lewis has no time to pause as results come in

 
Mark Kleinman
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Dave Lewis' overriding priority has been to get to the bottom of the accounting “errors”
It's day 53 for Dave Lewis as chief executive of Tesco. Ordinarily, that might be a time for a new boss to pause for breath, but the fire­fighting engulfing him since his arrival looks like the first act of a much longer-term drama.
The word emerging from Tesco’s Cheshunt HQ is that there will be little of substance announced alongside today’s delayed half-year results in terms of strategic ambitions for the UK’s biggest retailer.
That’s fair enough. Lewis’ overriding priority has been to get to the bottom of the accounting “errors”, which resulted in interim profits being overstated by an estimated £250m.
Restoring confidence among investors and Tesco’s lenders would be impossible without getting to the bottom of that.
Deloitte and Freshfields, which have been leading a probe of the debacle, appear not to have found anything that requires a restatement of Tesco’s results from previous years.
That’s a token relief. The harder task will be to persuade shareholders that on Lewis’ watch, they won’t have to worry whether Tesco’s numbers are what they purport to be. That may mean a more far-reaching set of actions than simply saying: “Trust me”.
A first step could be to appoint an independent overseer of Tesco’s supplier relationships, reporting to the company’s non-executive directors and pledging to publish an annual update for investors to scrutinise.
And what of the bigger challenges of resolving Tesco’s identity crisis with shoppers? Overturning the perception that it is becoming an also-ran won’t be any easier after this week’s Kantar Worldpanel market share data, but Lewis can console himself with the fact that he retains greater firepower to cut prices than most of his rivals.
And, I understand, Tesco has again fared poorly in the annual Advantage Mirror survey of the major grocers, conducted with their suppliers.
Delivered to retailers this week, the results show just how much work Lewis has to do during the next 53 days – and that’s before he starts thinking about customers.
UNITED BISCUITS FACE THE, ERR, CRUNCH
To say that it’s crunch time for the owners of United Biscuits (UB) as they mull a £2bn sale or stock market flotation would be an awful pun and a statement of the obvious.
Final bids are due tomorrow, with Turkish group Ulker, Canadian-backed Burton’s Biscuits and the US cereal-maker Kellogg still in the running. They had been viewed by UB’s shareholders as little more than a stalking horse for a public listing.
Market turmoil looks to have put paid to that. And that may be bad news for Ronald Kent, chief executive of NYSE Euronext London. Sources say he has been acting as a consultant to the global coordinators, which include Goldman Sachs, his former employer.
So is Kent setting himself up as a rival to STJ Advisors, Lazard and Rothschild? Nobody is saying – perhaps they're all too busy munching on their Penguins.
BANK TRADE BODIES SET FOR TURF WAR
More on the embryonic project designed to make the banking sector’s trade bodies both more effective and more efficient. I understand the task of coordinating this work has fallen to Antonio Simoes, HSBC chief executive in the UK, and McKinsey, the consulting firm.
Don’t expect them to hang around. Firm proposals to consolidate the myriad associations are likely this side of Christmas – and then the turf wars will really begin.

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