02nd Sep 2014

The first 100 days of Tesco’s new CEO David Lewis

London Evening Standard

David Lewis, Tesco’s new CEO who officially took on his new role yesterday, will be well aware of the importance of his first 100 days. For any new leader, the end of the first 100 days is a critical moment: it is the moment of judgement where the leader is perceived as a success or a failure. Lewis’s start date for the CEO hot seat was moved forward by a month from October 1st following a drop in the company’s share prices last week. This can only add to the pressure for the new CEO. However, Lewis’s career to date means he is no stranger to transition and like all experienced leaders he will have a plan in place to ensure he has an impactful first 100 days. Clearly those at the top in Tesco have every faith in Lewis abilities as they have given him the tough task of turning the company around.

Lewis’s appointment is a historic move for the company. He is the first external appointee to become CEO since the company was founded in 1919. Lewis’s predecessor, Philip Clarke, spent 40 years with Tesco. However, like Clarke, Lewis has shown great loyalty to the company that he started his career with having spent 27 years at Unilever. This may have been a contributing factor to his appointment. Lewis’s appointment has raised eyebrows for another reason; not only is Lewis new to Tesco, but he has never held a CEO role before. He does, however, have experience taking on new high profile roles. His CV includes stints in leadership roles in Latin America, Indonesia and central Europe as well as recently heading up Unilever in the UK and Ireland. These two ‘surprises’ (appointing an external executive, who as not held a CEO role previously) are in fact a positive thing for Lewis. He is clearly an astute business man and will be able to utilise his newness in his first 100 and bring his external and fresh perspective to the business.

For any new CEO and leader there are a number of important areas that need to be considered and addressed during the first 100 days. The importance of having a plan in place in order to stay focused on what is important and manage the multifaceted nature of the role cannot be understated. Three areas that every successful leader will pay attention to and include in their first 100 days plan are their team, building relationships and reducing their knowledge gap.

First of all, a new to role leader will face challenges around inheriting and building a team, and will have to make tough personnel decisions about who stays and who goes. These decisions need to happen very early on in the role, while the leader is in a position to take advantage of their newness.

Secondly, a new to role leader also needs to invest energy in forging new stakeholder relationships at all levels in the business. This involves motivating the workforce and getting buy-in from key stakeholders. Central to this is being a good communicator and Lewis has already demonstrated his mindfulness in this department. On his first day, Lewis sent an email to Tesco staff outlining his priorities, reassuring workers that decisions will not be made in haste and pledging to communicate openly and transparently and listen to employees’ observations and thoughts.

Thirdly, a new role also comes with time pressures and an intense learning curve. In addition to everything else that is going on, a leader needs to allocate time to learn new things and reduce their knowledge gap. Lewis alluded to his own knowledge gap yesterday when speaking with the Guardian and pointed out that he is not an experienced retailer… “The bit that is interesting is that I have never run a shop in my life”. It will be of the utmost importance for Lewis to invest time in getting up to speed on those areas of the business and market that he is not familiar with.

Lewis will have his work cut out for him over the coming months. Tesco’s poor performance on the stock market and the media frenzy surrounding his appointment mean that he will be judged more severely than most at the end of his first 100 days. Lewis has made a very positive start in his new role and we wish him luck in his first 100 days!

Colm Flood 

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