What leaders think
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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Alan Stewart

alan stewart
CFO, Tesco
NED & Chair of Audit Committee, Diageo

What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?

Issuing our trading statement in a fully virtual sense. As is usual, this presentation was made over the phone which makes the handover between the CEO, Ken, and myself more challenging as we are not in the same room and therefore signalling to each other is more difficult. In addition to a set of results to be proud of, it was really rewarding to hear Analysts, Media and our Investor base recognise the huge personal sacrifice our colleagues have made to keep stores open.

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?

This has to be our focus on the safety and wellbeing of both customers and colleagues alike, under these continually changing and challenging circumstances. There are differences across regions to be considered as well as for individual stores with everyone wanting to ensure the availability of appropriate stock on the shelves in a safe environment.

We have had 2 national lockdowns and a range of regional tier variations over many months. In what way has your approach to these lockdowns / tier restrictions permanently influenced your own way of working and will you make any adjustments now we’re in a 3rd lockdown?

We have been very clear that given the severity of the external situation that unless it is absolutely essential to be in the office, we expect people to be working from home. Tesco has been a strong advocate for flexible working for some years but the pandemic has increased this. We also recognise that after a period of considerable confinement there are many benefits of people interaction which can only be really achieved in the office environment.

Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?

There was a great deal of immediate digital transformation during the first lockdown and this will continue as we explore how we can engage on a digital basis when people don’t have to be together. There may be a slowdown in the speed of change if there is a return to personal interaction post lockdown.

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?

We put some real thinking into how this might look in September/October but with the continual changes and still some weeks of uncertainty ahead, it is difficult to say specifically at the moment. There is huge hope associated with the vaccine and as this is rolled out, we will have a clearer view on the new norm.

There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?

This is a really important area for us. We have for some time tried to limit business travel to the essential and this will undoubtedly continue. Sustainability/ESG has been a focus for us for a number of years. We were delighted to announce in our trading statement that we have removed 1 billion pieces of plastic during 2020. Such targets will be even more challenging going forward. We have set up new solar farms and have rolled out our 1st fleet of electric delivery vehicles as well as provided electric charging points in some of our car parks for our customers. In addition, we are working closely with our suppliers and the WWF on carbon footprint issues.

In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made and will you stick to them post lockdown?

During lockdowns I have made a point, whatever the weather, to walk the family dog first thing in the morning and again in the evening. Where I live we are lucky enough to have a range of local parks so I can vary my route. This is something I will endeavour to continue going forward.

Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)

In-store colleagues and those who work in our distribution centres and our delivery vehicles, who have unselfishly continued to go to work and be at the forefront of customer interaction without any complaints.

How did you spend Christmas?

Our plans, as for many others, were different to how we originally planned. One of our children and their partner are locked down with us so they were with us and we had a quiet Christmas. We started the day with a walk despite the very cold weather. We took a bottle of champagne with us to enjoy en route and returned to a traditional Christmas lunch. We had intended to go to the Isle of Wight after Christmas but had to cancel.

Any words of wisdom?

Focus on those things you can change and give this your full commitment. We have all learnt the importance of family, friends and community during the pandemic. Let’s remember this as we move beyond the pandemic.