Tesco’s Richard Brasher goes because “you can’t have two leaders in a team”

March 17, 2012

Philip Clarke, CEO of of Tesco [right] created the post of UK chief executive in 2010 for Richard Brasher, who now leaves echoing a metaphor that “you can’t have two leaders in a team”. Does this suggest a command and control corporate culture at Tesco?

The official corporate statement gave the news as follows [synopsis by LWD]:

As a consequence of [group CEO] Philip Clarke’s decision to take a much closer involvement in the UK business, Tesco plc announces today [15th March 2012] that Richard Brasher has decided to step down from the Board with immediate effect and to leave the Company in July once he has effected a smooth transition of the UK business to Philip.

Philip Clarke said: “I have decided to assume responsibility as the CEO of our UK business at this very important time. This greater focus will allow me to oversee the improvements that are so important for customers. I completely understand why Richard has decided to leave and want to thank him for the great contribution he has made over many years. The depth of management at Tesco and the strong leadership team across the Group allow me to take a more active role in the UK whilst our other businesses continue to grow.

The one captain issue

The move was widely presented, as in this account from the Sun, as actions taken to deal with problems resulting from ‘two captains on the ship’.

In a letter to [Tesco] staff, seen by[The Sun’s City reporters] , Mr Brasher said he “respected” his colleague’s desire to be “more closely involved”. He then added: “However, if even the best of teams is to succeed, it must have only one captain.

…the article went on to suggest that Philip Clark had also used the same two-captains metaphor in an interview with them:

Speaking to The Sun yesterday, Mr Clarke said: “Richard has done an extraordinary set of things in his career but this decision to step aside so I can get close to the business is the top one. “There’s only room for one captain in the team. He feels the business is best served by giving me more space. I respect that. It’s a big and brave decision.”


What’s going on?

A BBC report suggested that there might have been ‘a clash of egos in the context of poor results and lack of success in a strategy of responding to changing retail conditions’. Other reports suggest that the departure seems to have been publically managed as smooth but privately was a bit more bloody (a bit of pushing and a bit of jumping?).

But a few days into the story [March 17th 2012], another BBC commentator with unrivalled business contacts, Robert Peston, reported on the story without suggestion of a boardroom battle.

Where did the idea of distributed leadership go?

Of increasing interest within leadership studies is the concept of distributed leadership. The metaphor of ‘one captain of the ship’ as reported here suggests that Tesco is more accustomed to a traditional command and control culture.