Overview: big challenges for Tesco’s new FD

Laurie McIlwee, Tesco's new FD

Laurie McIlwee, Tesco’s new FD

Laurie McIlwee has landed the biggest FD’s job in UK, if not world, retail in
becoming group finance director of Tesco. But as glamorous as that sounds,
becoming FD of a £47bn supermarket BRINGS some pretty stiff challenges. His
appointment ended a seven month search, but McIlwee now begins his own journey
at the centre of one of the world’s most successful businesses in the middle of
one of the world’s worst financial crises.

What’s happened?

Former FD Andrew Higginson was promoted last year to run the Tesco personal
finance business, leaving the FD’s job vacant. It was a crucial post for the
retailing giant because the economy was heading into downturn and in such
turbulent times a steady hand is needed at the financial rudder.

McIlwee was head of Tesco distribution ­ where he made a name for himself
initiating Tesco’s own booze cruise by using the Manchester Ship Canal to move
the supermarket’s wine inventory ­ but signed up in 2000 as the UK FD. Prior to
that he had a nine-year spell with PepsiCo where he held CFO positions.

What’s going to happen?

Contrary to press reports many in the business were unsurprised by McIlwee’s
appointment. One close observer of executive appointments tells Accountancy Age:
‘He’s an outstanding FD who did brilliantly at Pepsi and in his UK FD role. Andy
is a big personality to take over from, but Laurie will be able to do that

And then there’s: ‘Laurie has proved his capability in a top job and the move
back to FD was good for all. There would have been strong external candidates
but Laurie is up to all of them.’

Praise indeed but, while joining Tesco must feel a bit like writing your own
cheques, it won’t all be easy.

In general, observers believe he will have to concentrate on getting Tesco’s
finance department onto more of a ‘war footing’ to deal with the financial
crisis (Christmas was good but Q4 saw growth of 0.4% compared to the 4.6% in
2007 ­ as a result that unnerved some analysts) and spend some time on retaining
the quality finance staff that other struggling companies will try to tempt

Analysts appear concerned about margins so the City will need a response and
that will have to be soon because year ends are due at the end of this month.
The annual report follows in May.

But McIlwee has shown some original thinking and has impressed. The real test
lays in the future. He will have to use his original thinking to deal with it.

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