Another day, and another moment where we see the Guardian (amongst others) giving us more news on the corporation Tesco. I will be honest, I have a soft spot for Tesco, the moment issues became visible both the CEO and CLO went all out keeping everyone in the loop. It started exactly a week ago, someone miscounted 250 million to coin a phrase. People were removed and all kinds of actions were started. A few days ago in the Guardian (at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/sep/28/tesco-crisis-doesnt-add-up) we see additional information.
So what can be done?
First of all, we need to take one additional look at a few items. You see, as stated more than once, I am not an economist. Now I know that minus 250 million is not a small amount, yet, the article states “its profits for the first six months of the year would be some £250m lower than the £1.1bn previously indicated“, which means that they are still getting 750 million in profits, which is a lot. So why is Blackrock ‘suddenly’ pulling out like that? The shares will bounce back! That is at the heart, the fact that the shares took such a tumble, whilst making a decent profit. Let us also keep in mind that the investigation is still ongoing. I touch on one side in ‘Double Jeopardy!‘ on September 27th, less than a day before this Guardian article. In there I ask the question “I stated before, what if this was not about the event, but about the orchestration?” Is that what is going on? It is a sincere question, I do not know, yet for a company to have a lesser profit, there would be consequences, yet would it be to the extent we are seeing here? Seems like a massive overreaction in my view.
Now let us get back to the article.
“The chairman has been the leader of this organisation that seems to have failed at every turn, was the assessment of David Herro, chief executive of US fund manager Harris Associates“, perhaps this is true, yet he is not there alone, why are the other members of the board not speaking out? This is not a boys club where you wash my back and I wash yours….real hard!
So, there seems to be a few issues, yet, this is at the top, so this means we are looking into several layers before we get to lower management. Either they have no clue, or they do not care. I am actually puzzled by the thought on what might be worse. What is a given is that Tesco is bleeding. Unlike those paperback investors, I like a puzzle and I want to solve it. How can this be turned around? First of all, to create places of peace, certain issues need to change, with the unemployment numbers, these people can either get on board, or leave the company. Greed will be stricken. Which means that this quote “The list includes disputing or delaying payment of invoices for more than 120 days; cutting a product’s price and then demanding compensation to maintain the profit margin; and demanding upfront payments in exchange for hitting sales targets that do not materialise” this can no longer be a method of operation. To get Tesco safe, the board will need to change methodology and remove anyone who is not on board; in addition, payment delays should be trimmed back to no more than 60 days. It is just absurd to get payments settled outside of the quarter to that extent. To truly become a contender, why not revamp Tesco Mobile? iiNet went from ‘seems to exist‘ to the number two in the Australian market by offering ACTUAL deals they left the rest behind them almost overnight, this means a mobile, not unlike the current offers, but with 1Gb data at £19.90 a month, Now we are starting to build a customer group! As I look at the different business groups, Dave Lewis might want to change a massive option, if they allow for the iiNet approach in the UK, Tesco Mobile could become more than a contender. Some might say that at this point it is not a good idea to make large changes. I disagree, this is the best time! As some of the rats are leaving the ship, why not upgrade the ship from cargo vessel with passengers, into a ferry with a large cargo hold. As you grow the passenger, all needing your cargo, you will offer a massive footprint with a loyal based cloud transporter. London is one of the largest mobile workforces on the planet. Use this as consumer strength!
There are a few more Australian approaches that could rock the foundation and make the future a stronger reality. It starts by changing the entire premise on how business is done. The Tesco bank seems to have overlooked options for both funeral insurance as well as the Wester Union approach, which many banks are overlooking, yet such a presence to such a service makes perfect sense in a shopping mall/supermarket. Consider that Western Union made over 5 billion in the last year, this gets us a net profit of around 14%. In the end good business is where you find it!
There are a few other options, but overall. There are several things Tesco can do, even if it was for the sheer fun of seeing Blackrock lose out on a good deal. If profits were lower than now this presently seems to be a likely fact. The reaction that some have now pushed for seems too much overkill, especially when you realise that they are measuring events and Tesco is in trouble, but not in the size and scope that Neil Woodford and Blackrock seem to imply it to be. Consider that Blackrock has over 4.5 trillion dollars in Assets under management. 250 million seems like a mere drop in the ocean. So, that there is no misunderstanding! The assets under managements represent 4,500 billion, the adjustment for Tesco is 0.25 billion,
Yet, instead of whinging about that part, why can we not do something to strengthen the Tesco position? It is all good and fine to be the sideline quarterback and comment on every aspect of the game, but what can be done to get the game going and to improve the game? One idea is to see if the Australian iiNet solution could work in the UK. It is only one of the options and that would lower mobile expense tensions by a roughly stated 57%, so the numbers are all on a level where the top 6 mobile and broadband providers will feel a new level of pain as they see their people run towards the upgraded Tesco Mobile provider.
It would be a start, but will it be enough?
No matter what we do and the amount of ‘more’ we create, there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed. How a company decided to run without a CFO for that long will be cause for questions, and perhaps even cause for investigations into criminal negligence. Consider that a company is set to structure, order and reporting pressures, how can a firm be without a CFO for six months? This is not at the heart of the matter, yet there is an overall level of concern in that mere part of the entire mess. In addition the quote “Although the investigation into Tesco has only just begun, analysts think the Albert Heijn scandal, which had woeful corporate governance and aggressive earnings management at its heart, provides an interesting history lesson, if nothing else.” Is that enough? There is an overly eagerness to appease shareholders and stakeholders far beyond the point of acceptability. If you consider opposing that (which might be valid), then consider how the numbers had been inflated by 29% just to keep the wealthy masses happy.
So, improving Tesco will require another level of changes. That part is seen in the Guardian article by Aditya Chakrabortty (at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/29/tesco-accountants-auditors). It is quite a witty style of writing and well worth the read. One of the more interesting quotes was “He found a bunch of men well aware of the boredom of the audit and of the shortcuts they were forced to make“, so how does that work when we consider “Tesco paid PwC £10.4m in the last financial year – plus another £3.6m for other consultancy work“. Was that not enough? You see, this reminds me of some conversations I had in the 90’s. How short sighted Americans truly believed how business can grow, with the same staff, by 20% annually. Prices had to remain the same, to remain competitive. But as short sighted as they were (being sales people); they forgot that the time of a consultant is finite. It is measured in time (you know, that pesky 60 minutes in an hour scale), so as they are set at 90% billable, it means that by year three you’ll have to work an average of 57 hours a week (whilst getting paid 40 hours). It seems that there are levels of short cuts set into place to get results completed, whilst there is no proper investigation on the amount of work that needs to be covered. It is only one cog in the entire failing machine and if Tesco is to stand up from this, illustrating and changing the entire approach to how accountancy is done seems like a logical next step, especially considering that the PWC pass never spotted 29% of inflation somehow.
It is my opinion that the entire system has been duct taped for far too long. This now falls back onto the desk of the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
You might ask why.
It is clear that Tesco is the most visible one, but I feel 99.5336% certain (roughly) that they are not the only one. As the British Cabinet minister responsible for all economic and financial matters, it stands to reason that if the economic recovery is to be preserved and maintained, we will need to make certain that not too many sheep fall of the paddock. This means taking a look into these regulations and more important, if (according to the article) 90% of all audits is done by the big four, seeing 25% fall of the reservation should be ample reason to forego sleep for the foreseeable future (sorry, Mr Osborne, that is why they pay you the extra £26.90 a week!).
It is clear that actions need to be taken, but it is also pretty curious how there is a massive amount of bashing on Tesco, whilst PWC is not getting the spotlight as much, can anyone explain that? Let’s be clear here, it is very possible that this is all due whilst PWC has not been involved at all, so this is not about their optional guilt, it is however valid to ask how some involved thought of pulling this off, it seems that a whistle-blower started all this, yet did no one else notice, did PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) have ZERO visibility that something was going on? And, let me be clear, it is very possible that nothing was visible at their last audit, which means that these systems had to be orchestrated and specifically edited to not raise flags, mainly because 250,000,000 is just too much, it would require over 5 billion rounding issues for this to be validly invisible, I reckon we can ignore the likelihood of the latter scenario.
Can Tesco become a team again? Yes, but it requires a massive sanitation of the board of directors as well as the higher managers. One final thought here, they were without a CFO for 6 months, was number two in that hierarchy (whomever reported to the CFO) not on the list, the longer I consider the facts and the numbers, the more I feel that this has been going on for some time to inflate something to this amount, did previous audits not pick anything up?
Can Tesco be a team again? Yes, but compartmentalisation needs to be removed, there needs to be overlap of high directors as well as a fundamental change in communications.
Can Tesco thrive again? I would think so if the previous two points are dealt with and adding the iiNet solution to Tesco might be needed sooner rather than later.
By the way, Mr Lewis, if you read this, consider that this mess came about whilst Philip Clarke made £1,171,000 a year, I reckon that my good insights and ideas are worth a mere 20%, especially if my Tesco mobile solution helps you gain more momentum in the mobile field.