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Has Tesco’s Bob Robbins been promoted or demoted?

Not every transfer to ‘special operations’ is a snub. But Tesco’s description of its former COO’s new role is bafflingly opaque

Being switched to special operations is often the corporate equivalent of being sent to Siberia. In some cases, however, it’s the opposite: the recipient can become the chief executive’s enforcer, a roamer who can’t be given a proper job title because that would put too many noses out of joint.

Which description applies to Noel “Bob” Robbins? He used to be chief operating officer of Tesco’s UK stores and was, in effect, the deputy to Richard Brasher, boss of the UK stores. Now he will be reporting directly to Tesco’s head honcho himself, chief executive Phil Clarke.

Subscribers to the Siberian theory will note that the shuffle comes less than a month after Robbins sold £200,000 worth of Tesco shares just eight days before a profit warning. The company, which insists Robbins did nothing wrong by flogging the shares to meet “necessary family expenditure,” says the episode is “entirely unrelated” to Wednesday’s announcement.

OK. But what will Robbins do in his new role? “Bob will work for me on a number of initiatives which will leverage the skill and scale of Tesco and allow even greater investments to be made for customers,” said Clarke in his internal memo. In other words, it’s as clear as mud.

If Tesco’s UK operation were a football team, one might say the midfield is starting to look crowded. Brasher is the chief executive and has a new chief operating officer in Chris Bush, who has been recalled from Thailand. Robbins will now also chip in with his leveraging initiatives. Meanwhile, Tim Mason, running US chain Fresh & Easy, is Tesco’s chief marketing officer, even though he is based in California, about 5,000 miles away from the nearest store with “Tesco” over the door.

Maybe so many senior hands will make light work of reversing Tesco’s slowdown in sales in the UK. But it’s a struggle to identify the formation they’re playing. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds