PracticeAccounting FirmsAwards 2006: Andrew Higginson – Outstanding industry contribution

Awards 2006: Andrew Higginson – Outstanding industry contribution

Accountancy Age Awards 2006 winner: Andrew Higginson – Outstanding industry contribution

aa awards 2006

Sponsored by Allied Irish Bank

Worth £31bn, the 12th largest company in the UK and by far the largest
retailer in the country, Tesco has left the rest of the high-street pack far
behind.

Finance director Andrew Higginson has been at the helm of the supermarket’s
finance department since November 1997, and as such has been as responsible as
anyone for the company’s demolition of its competition, and expansion into new
areas.

In particular, Higginson has driven the company’s joint finance venture,
Tesco Personal Finance, chairing the new company in addition to his day job.

A strategy director as well as a finance director at Tesco, Higginson has
said of his role: ‘My role is a broad-based business one rather than that of a
technical specialist who just keeps the score. Obviously, everyone on the board
is involved in strategy, but I’m the one who pulls it all together.’

And Tesco has pulled it all together in some style over recent years. In
2001, its turnover was an impressive £20bn.

But by 2005, it had almost hit £34bn. Profits in 2005 were up 20% on the
previous year’s.

How does Tesco and the FD do it, and stay ahead of the competition?
Higginson’s answer is this: ‘We stay paranoid! We have to assume that they’re
all out to get us, so we try to do a bit better than all of them. I don’t mean
to sound glib, but I think our motto, “every little helps”, is the best way to
explain it.

‘There’s no eureka factor. We work on much the same economics as everyone
else in this business in terms of land, labour and logistics costs, and we’re
all selling the same gear. What we do is add a little bit extra: things such as
making parking a bit simpler, making sure that our prices are a bit lower and
the queues are a bit shorter. All these things combine to create the right kind
of shopping experience. This is how we will continue to differentiate ourselves
from the competition.’

Higginson has pinpointed international expansion as the ‘largest opportunity’
for the retailer. In five years’ time the company could thus be seen as a
‘national champion’.

Tesco will, however, also face challenges to its dominance in the future, and
maintaining its premier position could be difficult. There are also criticisms
that it might be too powerful in its relationship with suppliers. Whatever
happens, expect Higginson to be at the forefront in meeting those challenges.

ON THE WAY UP

Higginson learnt his trade at Unilever as an internal auditor from1980 to
1984. He then spent two years at Lever Brothers China as a commercial manager in
Hong Kong – international experience that could prove valuable at Tesco. He
worked at Guinness in the late 1980s as finance director, then at Laura Ashley
as group FD. Before Tesco he worked at Burton, all of which makes him a retailer
through and through. At Burton his career coincided with another well
known-figure in retailing today: Stuart Rose, about whom he still speaks warmly.

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