Who is Dave Lewis? Five things to know about new Tesco chief

Jul 21, 2014

Tesco's Philip Clarke replaced by Unilever executive Dave Lewis following worst performance in years


It's all change at Tesco, as chief executive Philip Clarke steps down and makes way for Dave Lewis, the head of Unilever's personal care division. Lewis will take up the role on 1 October with a £1.25m salary and a £525,000 cash sum in lieu of his Unilever bonus.

The move comes after Tesco reported that sales and trading profit for the first half of the year were "somewhat below expectations". Clarke admitted last month that Tesco's trading in the first quarter was the worst performance he had seen at the retailer in four decades – so Lewis certainly has a challenge on his hands. 

But just who is Lewis and can he turn around the ailing retailer?

Unilever lifer

Lewis has had a long career at Unilever, the multinational company behind hundreds of consumer products, from Flora and Wall's ice cream to Vaseline and Domestos. He joined the company as a graduate trainee in 1987 and moved up the ranks, launching Dove in the UK in 1992 and holding a variety of senior roles including president for the Americas and chairman of Unilever UK and Ireland. He also became an independent non-executive director of BSkyB in November 2012. Veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb says Dave Lewis "knows nothing about retailing" but says this might not matter. "As a leading supplier he certainly knows how to win price wars and perhaps that is the big issue now facing Tesco in the UK," he tells The Guardian.

First chief executive from outside Tesco

The announcement of Clarke's departure comes just a day before he was due to attend a party to celebrate his 40th year at Tesco, according to the Financial Times. In contrast, Lewis will be the first chief executive of Tesco who has not come from within the company. Nevertheless, Sir Richard Broadbent, chairman of Tesco, says Lewis knows the supermarket chain well. "He knows the brand. He knows consumers. He is the right person to bring that perspective," he said. City investors appear hopeful about the appointment, as shares in Tesco jumped as much as three per cent in volatile early trading today.

International experience

Lewis brings with him a "wealth of international consumer experience", according to today's statement from Tesco. He has worked in Europe, South America and Asia. He led a period of growth in household care across Latin America in the 1990s and grew Unilever's Indonesian business by 30 per cent a year, despite political unrest in the region. He also took an advanced management programme at Harvard University.

Known as 'Drastic Dave'

According to The Grocer, Lewis earned the nickname "Drastic Dave" after restructuring Unilever UK in 2007. After becoming chairman of Unilever UK, Lewis streamlined the company, with 40 per cent of the cost slashed from the business and over 300 jobs cut. As a result, Lewis was credited with a turnaround of the business, with the performances of brands such as Ben & Jerry's, PG Tips, Flora and Surf proving that his actions "paid dividends", says The Grocer. He also began building what he described as "Team Unilever", inviting inspirational speakers to talk with employees about team spirit and introducing Unilever-branded rugby shirts for staff.

Sports mad

Lewis has been described as "sports mad", taking part in the London Marathon and Unilever's annual triathlon. In 2008, he was even appointed by the Conservative Party to chair a working group on how business and government should tackle public health issues such as obesity – despite being the man behind ice cream brands such as Wall's, Magnum and Ben & Jerry's. Lewis told the Daily Mail at the time that nutrition and healthy eating was taken "very seriously" for all of Unilever's food brands.

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