Tesco is close to ridding itself of a fleet of corporate jets that came to symbolise the strategic missteps at Britain’s biggest retailer, with the final aircraft set to be handed back next month.
The supermarket group has sold or returned four of the five planes it had last autumn, including the Gulfstream jet used by Philip Clarke, the former chief executive who was ousted in July.
Clarke’s replacement, Dave Lewis, has said he decided to scrap the fleet of jets when he joined in September. But a new $50m (£34m) Gulfstream G550 plane was already on its way and arrived days after Tesco admitted it had overestimated its first-half profits by £250m. That plane was sold in November. Tesco is due to hand back the final aircraft in the fleet, a Hawker 800, to the owner by the time the lease expires at the end of May. The group’s in-house team of pilots has left the company.
In October, a sale brochure for a 2008 Gulfstream G550 owned by Tesco provided a snapshot of the opulence experienced by the group’s top managers. The brochure described the plane’s Edelman beige leather seats, fittings in antique bronze and vacuum lavatory.
The fleet was a far cry from the lives of Tesco’s customers, many of whom struggled to buy essential items as living standards fell. Critics say the group took UK shoppers for granted while expanding in the US, China and other markets.
Lewis ordered the sale of the fleet as part of an effort to signal a new start for Tesco. He has announced the closure of the group’s head office in Cheshunt, thousands of job cuts, and the closure or cancellation of almost 100 existing and planned stores.
Tesco reports its annual results next week. Lewis, who joined from Unilever, is expected to set out further details of his plan to turn around the once-mighty retailer, which has been hit by competition from Aldi and Lidl and the falling value of its giant stores.
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