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

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.

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

  1. Arguably, command and control wouldn’t add value if everybody at all levels in the Tesco organisation is motivated, skilled, and performs to the level required by the job, pulling as one in the right direction – forever. Is this a two captains dilemma, or Mr Brasher has been so successul, with nothing left for him to achieve making him simply a redundant component?

  2. Thanks Adrian,

    There are a lot of uncertainties in such stories. The evidencee suggests that Mr Brasher appears to have ‘taken the rap’ for poor delivery of a strategic plan, but the statements made do not support the point that he had been so successful he worked himself out of a job.

    You could think of the ‘two captains’ and a version of the ‘command and control’ sorts of dilemma (who gets the fame, who gets the blame).

  3. Paul Hinks says:

    I’m also thinking about parallels with football and the relationship in football between the chairman, the manager, and the players. Who is accountable when results don’t meet expectations? I’m thinking about Chelsea as a recent example when AVB lost his job as their manager.

    Who was really responsible for AVB loosing his job at Chelsea? – was it the players for under performing (or rebelling)? Was Abramovich at fault for appointing an ‘in-experienced’ coach? Or was it AVB himself for failing to deliver the potential from the talented resources available at his disposal? – I’m sure there’s a lengthy bar room debate there for Chelsea fans 🙂

    I see a similar scenario manifesting at Tesco – Richard Brasher is apparently paying the penalty for Tesco’s ‘poor’ performance – perhaps Brasher had all the resources necessary and the results delivered simply did not meet expectations(?)

    I read mixed messages in Brasher’s resignation – I see potential repercussions within the boardroom – will others move on or be moved on? has trust within the Tesco boardroom been broken? If Clarke stabilises Tesco and delivers favourable results then the significance of Brasher’s resignation may fade – but I suspect we’ll read much more about Tesco and their challenges over the coming months.

  4. And to make things more complicated, events are seized on, to confirm or disconfirm decisions. Torres was bound to score sooner or later…

  5. I’m curious how creative writing instructors at colleges and universities handle students who write about really disturbing things and who seem potentially dangerous to themselves and others? Are instructors privy to students’ mental health records? Do they let such students get away with violent or disturbing writing in an effort NOT to stir too much trouble? Do you become proactive in trying to help these students? Do you undergo training to deal with problem students? As a creative writing student at a university, I often see disturbing stuff brought into workshops. I’m wondering what the profs think of all this. Thanks to any answers!.

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