Tesco, the Lehman way

It’s all the buzz
It’s all the rage
What Lehman did once
On a grocery stage

So cabbage that cherry
and settle that sprout
and if you want balance
you’ll fall on your snout

So be not afraid
for them closing the doors
bring coins to Tesco
250 million and it’s yours!

Yes, another day in the works for the CFO’s of the world. Did anyone imagine, when the Lehman brothers had their methods of inflating their economy it would be all the rage. So much so that it would even come to a grocery near you?

Well, as we see the Guardian (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/sep/22/tesco-investigators-overstating-profit-250m) announces how Tesco overestimated their profit. Let’s be honest, 250,000,000 is just a number, if you say it really fast it doesn’t seem like much (you should actually really try to say it fast 5 times).

Now, they will fork out additional costs as they have requested DeLoite and Freshfields to take a look at all this.

It would be nice to bash them ‘board’ members around a little more, but it seems unfair because when we see Dave Lewis and how open he is on what has transpired, we should wonder what comes next. The fact that he was alerted by the CLO only adds to the confusion here. Not confusion in a bad way, but actual confusion. First of all, let’s have a round of applause (seriously!), for Dave Lewis to bring this out into the open. I believe that it will remove pressures and I feel certain that the body blow the stock gave them will settle and likely return, perhaps even a little stronger. We should expect a Chief Legal Officer to act in this way and seeing it so is just a builder of confidence. Yet, I stated confusion, which I remain true to.

Even though these matters are in place and also the fact that the new CFO is not joining them until December 1st, we should ask what elements were in play with the old CFO leaving. The BBC throws a few more logs on the fire (at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-29306444). There are facts between the emotions of people. When I read “Professor Ajay Bhalla of Cass Business School said ‘things could not be worse for Tesco’s management and shareholders’“. Sounds nice BBC! Was this the only expert you could find willing to speak out? What do the people at the London School of Business say?

I have other questions too. Where were Chris Bush (Managing director UK) and Mike McNamara (CIO)? Did they not notice the 250 million ‘offset’? Let’s not forget that this 250 million pound caper represents 10% of the ENTIRE Tesco Group profit. That is way too large a number to be this unnoticed by too many on the high level. In regards to the CIO questions will also rise on what data was used, how it was collected and how it was ‘mined’ for the ‘information’ nuggets in the end. Be very wary of what I state here. I am not accusing, or considering their involvement or guilt. Yet, if reports are based upon numbers, which comes from data files, how was all this achieved? There is an entire internal track that should be examined and not just by the two fore mentioned ‘guests’ of the Tesco system. The list of the members of the executive committee seems unbalanced as well, we see all these commercial players, marketeers and even a Chief Creative Officer, however on the other end there is only one Chief Information Officer. Where is the CTO? Where is the CDO (Chief Data Officer)? As I see it, when you have your global groceries and your banks, one CIO just does not cut it, you need two more to create a wall to ‘prevent’ these commercial boys (and three girls) into becoming a little too over enthusiastic. Hurray for Dave Lewis (not Dave Allen), for taking the Bull by the horns and acting the right way. The Guardian informs us of a few other interesting choices, but the two parts that did raise a few issues were “He said the problem was not in the ordinary course of events and that rules may have been broken” and “Analysts pressed Tesco’s chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, about how the accounting problem went undiscovered until just over a week before the planned announcement of first-half results. Clive Black, an analyst at Shore Capital, said Broadbent’s position was untenable because he had left the board without a finance director“.

Was it that simple? You see, the Lehman reference is there for a reason, they did all these naughty things, yet never actually ‘broke’ the law. a better quote in that regard is one I read a little while ago “Just because an action is legal does not always mean that it is ethical“, which is at the heart of this here. There are two sides, not just that Tesco was without a CFO, but this situation implies that those directly below the CFO, who have been there until now (my assumption) is that they either did not know or did not care what was going on. These are questions that clearly need additional investigation. It is also cause for my opposition to Clive Black, the Shore Capital analyst. A good machine should be able to continue running if a head falls away (for whatever reason); if the machine is sound this would not have happened. So as Mr Black looks at one person, it is my personal believe that the machine itself is not up to scrap. This is partially due to the lacking presence of a CTO and a CDO, the last one is essential when you see someone like Tesco, where the grocery and banking branch are now intertwining. That issue will be more and more essential to other areas where larger players are now doing much more, whether it is banking, insurances or mobile communication. The overlap makes the need for a Chief Data Officer more than just essential.

Even though four people have been suspended there is one more person that needs to be looked at. When I say this I mean not as in suspension, but an investigation into her role seems to be essential as well. In this case I am referring to Rebecca Shelley, the Group corporate affairs director. If we look at the Tesco Governance structure where it states “We have two Committees responsible for ensuring that we live up to our commitments and responsibilities. Our Social Responsibility Committee (see below) is led by our Chief Executive, Philip Clarke, and is responsible for driving our strategy and monitoring our progress. Our Corporate Responsibility Committee, which includes Non-executive Directors, defines our corporate and social obligations as a responsible business. As outlined in his introduction to this report, Sir Richard Broadbent has handed over the Chair of this Committee to Jacqueline Tammenoms Bakker“, which is at http://www.tescoplc.com/index.asp?pageid=168. The role of Rebecca Shelley, in my view should have been more central with inclusion in the financial matters as well (perhaps she was). Even though her role would only have been ‘to be aware‘ it is likely that whatever game was played could not have lasted, or remained this hidden if she would have been part of the reporting side. Is that not a corporate affair?

So as we look at what happened and how to stop it, I think it is also important on how things were meant to run and how they should be run in light of the branching of Tesco. It also lights one other aspect. I reckon the outspoken actions of Dave Lewis might be rare, which means that Tesco is not the only one where there has been an issue of overstating. Who else played and how is compartmentalising in these events is a lot more dangerous than people outside and inside the circle regard them to be.

In the end we should all form our own minds on events when they take place and I hope that this blog raised several questions on things some got away with and more important how things can get better when people like Dave Lewis pick up the issues and goes for them, camera’s and image be damned!

 

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