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Tesco executive involved in shares sale moved to new post under group chief

Bob Robbins, the former UK chief operating officer, has not been demoted and will still sit on executive committee, says retailer

Tesco has moved Bob Robbins from his role as UK chief operating officer, three weeks after it emerged he sold shares in the retailer ahead of a profit warning that caused the company’s shares to slump.

Robbins will now work directly for the group chief executive, Philip Clarke, “on a number of initiatives”, an internal announcement to Tesco staff revealed. The announcement did not refer to the executive’s sale of 50,000 shares at 404.51p each on 4 January, a week before Tesco reported its biggest drop in underlying British sales for decades.

“As we move closer to the new financial year, I have reflected on the changing needs of the business and I have asked Bob Robbins to change his executive committee accountabilities,” Clarke said in the staff announcement, seen by the Guardian.

Tesco insiders insisted the changes had no connection to the share sale, which took place three days before the end of the period covered by its trading statement, pointing out that Robbins’s move was “not a demotion” and that he would still sit on the group’s executive committee, the most senior internal grouping of executives below the Tesco board.

However, it is not clear exactly what Robbins’s new role will involve, or the precise motivation behind his sudden need to raise £200,000 in such a public fashion last month.

Clarke’s internal announcement simply stated: “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. He will also continue to play a leading role in the UK Investment Programme and will work in support of Richard Brasher [Tesco's UK chief executive] and the UK team as this programme rolls out over the coming months.”

Retail analysts said they were also unclear about what will be expected of Robbins. One said: “Companies have reshuffles. Tesco says he’s been promoted. I don’t know if it is a promotion or not. I don’t really know what the new job is.”

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) routinely writes to companies whose executives have traded in shares ahead of major announcements to ask them to explain the reasons behind the transactions and why they had been approved. The regulator declined to comment specifically on Robbins, while Tesco would not confirm or deny it had received any such communication.

However, Robbins had cleared the share sale with Clarke’s office ahead of the announcement and the company insists that no rules were broken.

Robbins will be succeeded as UK chief operating officer by Chris Bush, a Tesco veteran of 29 years and the current boss of the group’s Thailand business. He will be responsible for Tesco’s UK stores, distribution network and leadership, the company said.

In a statement issued by the retailer, Bush said: “I am very excited to be returning to the UK to support the team with our plans to invest in the UK business for customers and staff.” No comment was provided from Robbins.

Bush will join a business that has begun to stutter. Dire sales at Tesco’s UK chain over Christmas spooked investors and sent the share price down by 15% when they were revealed last month. The news was followed by the supermarket chain launching a complete overhaul of its stores, including radical curbs on the opening of giant out-of-town superstores.

“Last month we set out our determination to invest in the UK business. These changes give the UK board the combined strength of a very experienced leader of change and a talented country CEO who has done an extraordinary job in Thailand,” said Brasher.

John Christie, who has worked for the retailer for 30 years, was announced as Bush’s successor in Thailand.

Shares in Tesco edged up in a rising market yesterday. They closed at 321.33p, having added 1.85p. © 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