Lance Batchelor, one of the country’s top marketers, will soon be stacking shelves, pushing trolleys, even working the checkouts at the local Tesco after landing the marketing director’s job at Britain’s leading grocer.
The ex-Vodafone global marketing chief brings a wealth of experience from years as a marketer at Procter & Gamble and Amazon.com, though nothing in the way of supermarket retail experience. He picks up the reins at Tesco from Ian Crook who has been made marketing director for the internet. The appointment comes six months after Tesco’s global marketing chief Tim Mason left to run the company’s US operations and launch its Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market supermarket format.
In an exclusive interview with Marketing Week, Batchelor says some of the challenges he faces are self-evident. “Tesco is probably the most successful retail player in the UK and possibly globally. Keeping the company above the boil and on a higher level will be a challenge in itself but its going to be exciting being part of the team looking at that,” he says.
Environmental issues, sourcing and provenance, and the evolution of the brand are some of the issues he expects to tackle and he is unlikely to make many changes to what he calls “a very well run” marketing department. “In the past I’ve taken on marketing departments that I’ve needed to rebuild,” he says. “From what I’ve heard, seen and picked up, it’s an extremely good team who know what they are doing.”
Russ Lidstone, chief strategic officer at Euro RSCG, worked on the Tesco account at Lowe, says/ “He’s going into an well-organised machine and operation. It’s incredibly efficient and phenomenally customer-focused. It’s a company that is driven by a desire to succeed. And he’s going in at a time when retail is at its most competitive in many, many years.”
The competition is catching up
After years of surging profits, Tesco recently delivered sales below market forecasts after reporting disappointing results in the non-food sector. In previous years the company has surged ahead and has dominated the retail landscape as rivals Sainsbury’s and Asda have struggled, and Morrisons has experienced a period of difficulty as it incorporated Safeway into the chain. Tesco has also positioned itself on the value for money platform, a notion which is no longer distinctive.
When he starts on Monday, Batchelor inherits a marketing department of more than 200 people and five distinct units: Clubcard, pricing and promotions, trade and marketing, advertising and consumer insights. He will also be expected to assist in developing the global marketing strategy, a function led by Tesco’s board level marketer, and Batchelor’s new boss, commercial and trading director Richard Brasher.
Guy Phillipson, chief executive of Internet Advertising Bureau and Batchelor’s former colleague at Vodafone, says: “He’s extremely approachable and has a very open mind. When he came to Vodafone he wasn’t wellversed in things digital but was well-versed in branding and all the classic marketing disciples.”
But Batchelor is not without his detractors. While considering him to be “a very good catch for Tesco.” Phillipson says he’s not flawless. “One weakness would be that he doesn’t ask a lot of questions. He doesn’t always ask those big questions. He could have been more assertive,” he says. “He sometimes didn’t come out with that killer question that makes you think.”
Someone who’s worked closely with Batchelor says he is not the most hardworking marketer, but is skilled at assembling talented teams around him. “He is very good at creating a good team around him of clever people. He will fit somewhere like Tesco where they are very considered.”
A whole new sector
Some also point to Batchelor’s lack of retail experience as a major drawback for such a high profile position in an industry known for favouring people who have made their way up through the ranks.
Batchelor retorts: “I definitely plan to spend a large amount of time on the shop floor. I always have with the companies I worked for. At Vodafone I spent time in the call centre,” and adds: “Many people have worked their way from the bottom but Tesco realises the benefit of bringing people in.”
He lives in Hampshire with wife Wendy, an intellectual property lawyer, and his four sons, all aged ten and under. He joined the Royal Navy at 18 to pay for his degree in international politics and strategy at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. This was followed by an MBA at Harvard Business School before he embarked on a career at Procter & Gamble on their trainee scheme. Eight years later, while working for P&G in the US, he moved to online retailer Amazon in Seattle as a general manager running its DVD business. After two years he moved back to the UK when he was made UK marketing chief at Vodafone. Two years after that he was made global marketing director. His big achievement at Vodafone, according to Phillipson, was Vodafone Live. He came in just before it launched and had to absorb a lot of digital information fast before “hitting the floor running.” Phillipson says: “It was a very successful campaign.”
Batchelor seems little concerned that he will only be handling the UK after so many years working in the international arena. At Vodafone, the UK market made up 15% of the group whereas at Tesco it makes up 80% of its business.
He left the telecoms giant after four years to take some time out and to set up The PC Guys, a nationwide home and small business IT repair and support company. He will continue as non-executive chairman with Tesco’s approval. “The chief marketing role (at Vodafone) was filled and I had the idea for the PC Guys. I didn’t feel I was developing or growing and doing another two years wouldn’t do. But within six months of leaving I realised I was starting to miss being part of an organisation.”
He left the Royal Navy at the age of 27 after reaching the rank of Lieutenant and the posts of navigation officer and warfare officer on submarines. Although he says he does not regret leaving he admits to feeling a little jealous at seeing several of his Naval friends reaching the ranks of commander. A career in marketing is a long way from the choppy seas of the world’s oceans but the might of Tesco could be compared to working on something of a warship.
Batchelor is now bracing himself for a return to the corporate world. And he could soon be working on a check-out at a Tesco near you.