Richard Cousins, the chief executive of the catering group Compass, has abruptly left his position as senior independent director of Tesco just days before Britain’s biggest retailer unveils its Christmas trading figures.
The surprise departure of Cousins after just two years on the board will be seen as a blow for the supermarket chain by the City.
The Compass boss has a heavyweight reputation in the financial world. He joined Tesco as a non-executive director in October 2014 at the height of the accounting scandal that rocked the retailer, bringing much-needed experience to the board in handling crises and running a FTSE 100 business. He became the senior independent director in April 2015 after Patrick Cescau retired. Cousins was paid £115,000 by the company last year.
In a brief stock market statement, Tesco said Cousins had decided to resign with immediate effect. It provided no further details. But sources close to the supermarket chain said the most probable reason for him quitting was a clash with the rest of the board, particularly the Tesco chief executive, Dave Lewis.
John Allan, chairman of the retailer, said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Richard for his strong contributions to the deliberations of the Tesco board over the last two years and particularly for his insights and invaluable advice as we have delivered an unprecedented level of change across the business. We wish him well for the future.”
Deanna Oppenheimer will replace Cousins as the senior independent director. Oppenheimer, who led Barclays high street banking operations in Europe, has been on the board of Tesco for almost five years.
Shares in Tesco fell 1.35, or 0.65%, to 205.5p on Tuesday. The share price remains below the 230p level that it was at when Lewis took over in September 2014, although since then he has uncovered a £326m gap in the company’s finances owing to the accounting scandal. Tesco also posted an annual pre-tax loss of £6.4bn, one of the biggest in British corporate history.
The company is scheduled to a publish a trading statement on the vital festive season – the busiest period of the year for food retailers – on 12 January.
Cousins has led Compass for almost 11 years, but this is not the first time he has left a non-executive position unexpectedly. In December 2013, the health, hygiene and home products group Reckitt Benckiser announced Cousins would step down as a non-executive director because he was “assuming an increasingly day-to-day operational role as chief executive of Compass” and this would “impact on his ability to devote sufficient time to his role as a non-executive director of RB”.
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