Tesco's Philip Clarke, the loneliness of the chief executive

The CEO is having a difficult time.


Philip Clarke took over as chief executive of Tesco in March 2011. At that point, Tesco was still the champion of food retailing in the UK, and had been for nearly 20 years. But in Christmas 2011, Tesco recieved the worst trading figures in decades.

According to Philip Clarke, it wasn't his fault. In fact, Tesco had been doing badly for some time. As he told the FT on Wednesday:

For five years we had underperformed the industry in like-for-like terms..[I was]...looking at colleagues who are running stores, some I have been working with for as much as 20 years, and seeing them unable to do the right things for customers, because they didn’t have the [staff] hours that they needed. 

This is at odds, though, with Mr Clarke's statement in April 2011, in which he said that Tesco's issues were not structural, and he had inherited a fantastic legacy. He explains his change of heart to the FT in rather vague terms:

A year ago I was as clear about the great inheritance as I was about the fact that the UK needed to get back to being strong and growing.

Speaking of the overhaul by which he plans to address Tesco's fall from grace, he said:

You learn of the loneliness of being a chief executive.


Philip Clarke, Getty images
Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.