David John Lewis Biography and Profile, Dave Lewis Biography

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Dave Lewis Early Life

Who is Dave Lewis (David John Lewis)? Lewis, English businessman, born 12 March 1965, had a career at Unilever, the multinational company behind hundreds of consumer products, from Flora and Wall’s ice cream to Vaseline and Domestos. He joined the company as a graduate trainee in 1987 and moved up the ranks, launching Dove in the UK in 1992 and holding a variety of senior roles including president for the Americas and chairman of Unilever UK and Ireland. He also became an independent non-executive director of BSkyB in November 2012.

Veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb says: “Dave Lewis knows nothing about retailing, but maybe that doesn’t matter, because as a leading supplier he certainly knows how to win price wars and perhaps that is the big issue now facing Tesco in the UK,” veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb said.

He led a period of growth in household care across Latin America in the 1990s and grew Unilever’s Indonesian business by 30 per cent a year, despite political unrest in the region. He also took an advanced management programme at Harvard University.

According to The Grocer, Dave Lewis earned the nickname “Drastic Dave” after restructuring Unilever UK in 2007. After becoming chairman of Unilever UK, Lewis streamlined the company, with 40 per cent of the cost slashed from the business and over 300 jobs cut. As a result, Lewis was credited with a turnaround of the business, with the performances of brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, PG Tips, Flora and Surf proving that his actions “paid dividends”, says The Grocer. He also began building what he described as “Team Unilever”, inviting inspirational speakers to talk with employees about team spirit and introducing Unilever-branded rugby shirts for staff.

David John Lewis has been described as “sports mad”, taking part in the London Marathon and Unilever’s annual triathlon. In 2008, he was even appointed by the Conservative Party to chair a working group on how business and government should tackle public health issues such as obesity – despite being the man behind ice cream brands such as Wall’s, Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s. Lewis told the Daily Mail at the time that nutrition and healthy eating was taken “very seriously” for all of Unilever’s food brands.

Quick Facts About David John Lewis

  • Mr. Lewis previously occupied the position of President-Personal Care Business at Unilever NV and Managing Director-Personal Care Business at PT Unilever Indonesia Tbk (a subsidiary of Unilever NV)
  • President-Personal Care Business at Unilever Plc Chairman at Unilever UK Ltd
  • Chairman at Unilever Ireland Ltd
  • Managing Director at Unilever UK Home & Personal Care (which are all subsidiaries of Unilever Plc)
  • Marketing Director for Club Atlético River Plate (Uruguay) and Marketing Director of Club Atlético River Plate
  • Mr. Lewis received an undergraduate degree from Nottingham Trent University
  • Dave Lewis is the first Tesco outsider to take charge of the company since the founder Jack Cohen began selling groceries on an East London stall in 1919
  • Primarily a marketing man and has no top level experience of working in a supermarket
  • In 2007, Lewis was behind the reorganisation of the business and its broad portfolio of brands. He was known as “drastic Dave” at the grocer for cutting 300 jobs in 2007
  • Lewis, a fitness enthusiast, is also a non-executive director of BSkyB

David John Lewis Biography and Profile

In 1996, he moved to South America, to be Marketing Director of River Plate covering Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. He was heavily involved in defending the company’s southern cone laundry business, whilst also leading regional innovation for household care. Lewis then progressed his career with a move to Indonesia in 1999, where he was Managing Director of Unilever Indonesia’s personal care business and regional innovation leader for personal care South East Asia. Political unrest and hyperinflation made business conditions particularly challenging, but the business continued to innovate under his leadership and saw an average growth of 30% per year.


Lewis looked to further his academic credentials and took an Advanced Management Programme at Harvard University before serving as Senior Vice President for Home and Personal Care in Central and Eastern Europe for three years.

In 2005, he returned home to the UK and took up the role as Managing Director of the UK home and personal care business. In 2007 he became Chairman of Unilever UK and Ireland, as the company consolidated its three separate operating companies – foods, home and personal care and ice cream, into a single business as part of its One Unilever programme. Under this brief tenure he looked after branded grocery goods such as Knorr stock cubes, Pot Noodle and Cornetto ice-cream.

This more groceries-related position brought him to the attention of the Conservative Party which, then in opposition, appointed Lewis to chair a business taskforce on obesity. In its final report, the business group urged the party to oppose colour-coded traffic-light labels on food favoured by many health experts and stop restrictions on TV food advertising.

He was appointed Unilever President of the Americas in 2010.

In 2011, he took up his current role as the President of Personal Care as he had gained a reputation as a ‘turnaround expert’. He took control of Unilever’s £15.8bn global toiletries business, managing key brands such as Dove and Vaseline.

Clearly Mr Lewis is a successful and ambitious man who has a wealth of international experience. He also has knowledge of Tesco, with many of his dealings taking place at the negotiating table. He has good brand experience launching brands such as Dove Soap in the UK and has some experience with food brands.

However, now Lewis will arguably be in an even more consumer-facing organisation than Unilever where scrutiny is around every corner. Consumers on the whole demand aspects such as ethical sourcing, short supply chains, quality and value, as well as a competitive price. These are all qualities that are commensurate to British Farmers and we would expect Mr Lewis to recognise this.

Dave Lewis joined the Board of Tesco PLC as Group Chief Executive

Dave Lewis joined the Board of Tesco PLC as Group Chief Executive on 1 September 2014. Dave has significant experience in brand marketing, customer management and general management. Prior to joining Tesco, he worked for Unilever for nearly 30 years in a variety of different roles across Europe, Asia and the Americas. He has experience across many sectors in the UK and overseas, and has been responsible for a number of business turnarounds. He was previously a non-executive director of Sky PLC.

Dave is also a member of the Governance Committee of the Consumer Goods Forum and chair of Champions 12.3, a UN programme seeking to add momentum to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Target 12.3 by 2030.

On Dave Lewis’s first day in charge at Tesco he sent an email to the retailer’s 500,000 staff warning it had “urgent issues” to deal with. However, the supermarket boss could never have imagined the scale of the problems he would face at Britain’s biggest retailer. The discovery of a £326m black hole in its accounts and a continuing downturn in sales and profits transformed his task from a turnaround job to a rescue mission.

Lewis uncovered an accounting problem

Five weeks into the job, Lewis uncovered an accounting problem that tanked the shares. But Tesco (TSCO.UK) eventually got back on track under Lewis’ guidance, and has prospered by cutting costs, improving service, and building closer ties with suppliers. The shares have rallied 36% in the past two years, more than double the gain of the FTSE 100 index.

Lewis was the first outsider to run Tesco since Sir Jack Cohen founded the company as a market stall in east London in 1919. With a background in marketing similar to former boss Sir Terry Leahy, Lewis’s prime task was to breath new life into the increasingly stale 96-year-old brand.

When he started he claimed: “In our DNA we have always been the customers’ champion and we will be again.”

‘What I’m really trying to do at this point is to try to get everyone to look through the eyes of the customer again. I’m trying to get the business to make time for things that matter from a customer point of view: service, availability, quality – all those things that the customer can actually see.’ He says his wife Helena has joked that she doesn’t expect to see him for the next six months. But the reality is that the Lewis household has actually been drawn in to help.

‘Our neighbours asked my wife what was going on, because we had so many supermarket delivery vans round to the house. I test the delivery services of my competitors and we try out the meals they sell.’

Has Tesco become a bureaucracy? ‘One of the biggest challenges is, as you get bigger, how do you keep it simple,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t use the word “bureaucracy” because I don’t feel able to qualify that. But large organisations tend to have activities that can make things more complicated. I believe putting the customer in the centre is in the DNA of this business.’

Lewis accepts that work needs to be done examining the booking of ‘commercial income’, which some believe accounts for £5 billion of all UK supermarkets’ profit.

These are the extra fees supermarkets levy on suppliers for in-store promotions, or if a supermarket hits sales targets for suppliers’ products, or, conversely, penalty charges if products sell poorly.

But Lewis is quick to defend the supermarket’s tough negotiating stance with suppliers – a trait for which Tesco has become notorious.

‘The negotiation between a supplier and big retailer is a commercial, intensely negotiated thing. When I was working for Unilever six or seven years ago, we had pretty full and frank conversations with every retailer, not just Tesco. Tesco was firm and fair and that’s how I would want it to be.’

But Lewis qualifies his defence: ‘What I need to understand is whether, by carrying on a practice that worked in a growing market, when conditions changed, there was a consequence. But I can’t tell you that yet.’

Despite his vast experience in consumer goods at Unilever, he’d never run a stores business before. That raised eyebrows, not least as he was the first “outsider” to lead Tesco since it was founded by Jack Cohen in 1919. Described by one retail analyst as “calm, considered, considerate and steely”, he earned the nickname “Drastic Dave” at Unilever after slashing jobs as he rose through the ranks, marketing the likes of Dove soap and Cornetto ice creams.

Promises were made to reform, and it quickly emerged that his first priority was to make vigorous cuts. His disgraced predecessor, Phil Clarke, had already pulled Tesco out of Japan and the US and Mr Lewis has followed his lead, selling its Blinkbox entertainment arm; slashing up to 10,000 positions and shutting stores; closing down Cheshunt and putting its £1bn Clubcard data business Dunnhumby and its South Korean arm up for sale. A new deal is reportedly on the table with staff to end its costly defined-benefit pension scheme, worth £3bn.

“Mr Lewis has brought control to a business that was hitting the buffers at pace,” says Shore Capital’s analyst Clive Black. “On balance-sheet work, so much has to be seen through including what appears a delayed Dunnhumby sale, a purported Korean disposal and further work on property and pensions.”

Lewis had been the brains behind the “love your body” advertising campaign for Unilever’s Dove soap brand and ran other successful marketing programmes for the household goods group around the world — including one that forced rival Proctor & Gamble to pull Ariel out of parts of South America because the name became synonymous with lavatory seats.

With Aldi, Lidl and the likes of Poundland setting a new low bar in customers’ expectations on price, Tesco needed to strike back under Lewis in order to regain credibility. For too long, the UK’s biggest supermarket had let prices drift upwards as it tried to protect profits.

Lewis says: ‘I completely accept that people say they are shopping here now or there now. But, in the UK, we serve 66 people per second. In a six-month period, nearly 80 per cent of the UK population have been in a Tesco. My job is to make sure that if you come five out of ten times I can get you to come a sixth time. That’s the marketing challenge.’

Lewis says: ‘Can we get people back to a place where it’s more convenient for them to do a larger percentage of their shopping at Tesco? Can I get them into my store more often? Improved ranges, service, availability and, yes, maybe on occasions, what the pricing level may be, are all levers that I need to be able to pull. That’s the opportunity.’

Lewis began his campaign last Christmas, slashing the price of the “festive five” – bags of vegetables including carrots, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and parsnips – to 49p. The promotion was simple, widely advertised and made Tesco 65% cheaper than 2013 for those items – and at least 20% cheaper than rivals.

The move helped Tesco enjoy a relatively strong Christmas. Since then he has cut 25% off key branded items including Hovis, Coca-Cola, Marmite and Tetley. Overall, Tesco has invested more than £200m into cutting prices and improving service.

Lewis has been more decisive in cutting costs. As well as closing stores and scrapping new developments, he has shut the company’s headquarters in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, closed the defined benefit pension scheme and axed dividend payments.

“The most important thing is that we all focus on being on the top of our game. We need to keep it simple and customer-focused.” The words of Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis rang out loud when, with the retailer’s corporate reputation in tatters, he was rushed in a month early. As he prepared to celebrate his first anniversary at the helm of Britain’s largest retailer, he has much to reflect on.

The Tesco boss continued where his predecessor started in downsizing stores by leasing out unwanted areas to other businesses such as gyms or retailers.

Shares in Tesco surged after Lewis unveiled a radical turnaround plan in January, which included the store closures. Lewis has not hung around in sorting out the unwanted porfolio. Sites in Scotland have been sold and millions of pounds handed to local councils in order to reach settlement on local developments now abandoned.


Barron’s named David John Lewis one of the world’s best CEOs in recognition of the successful turnaround he engineered.

In an interview, he explained his tactics and goals:

What were the key elements that helped to transform the business?

We put customers back at the heart of everything we do and changed our business from one that’s about running shops to one that’s about serving people. We went back to our roots and listened to our customers and our colleagues, and we articulated a new purpose— serving shoppers a little better every day. We invested in our competitiveness and freed up our colleagues to focus on great service. That has led to sustained improvements across our customer metrics. We also redefined our relationship with suppliers, and completely rebuilt our commercial model. And we simplified how we operate to significantly lower our cost base.

What are the challenges ahead?

We’re in a very competitive market, and the way customers are shopping continues to evolve. There are also significant cost challenges.

How are you handling these challenges?

You can’t stand still in retail, so we are constantly innovating, listening to customers, and aiming to meet their needs better than anybody else. We will succeed by staying true to what we have always done best throughout our 100-year history: being a champion for customers and earning their loyalty.

David John Lewis on Solving Food Waste

As Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis said: “We will never achieve our goal to halve food waste until reporting is mandatory.”

Every year, a third of the world’s food goes to waste. That’s more than a billion tonnes of food that never makes it onto anyone’s plates. It’s even more shocking when you consider that 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry every day

In a week when the spotlight is on climate change, it’s time we fully mobilised to act against one of the major contributors: food waste.

Some facts – food waste accounts for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions and if it were a country it would be the third largest emitter in the world after China and the US. In the UK, more than 10 million tonnes of food is wasted every year. In fact, an area almost the size of Wales is needed to grow the food and drink for our tables that is simply never eaten.

The environmental, business and moral case for tackling food waste is undeniable.

In the UK, over the last few years we’ve seen a step change in the number of food companies pledging to tackling food waste. However, without transparency, these efforts will not have the impact needed. Publishing food waste data is vital; without it, efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – to halve food waste by 2030 – will be severely jeopardised. Without publication, we will never be able to judge whether real action is happening.

Food companies face the difficult task of matching supply and demand. As a retailer, we know it’s almost impossible to avoid having some surplus food or shortages at the end of the day. But it’s only by measuring and publishing the data, that you can identify a solution and hold yourself to account.

Recognising this, 38 Tesco suppliers will publish their progress in the fight against food waste, many for the second year in a row.

It’s a major step forward but now we need the rest of the industry to follow.

Champions 12.3 is a global coalition committed to delivering SDG 12.3. This week, it will publish its latest assessment of progress towards its goal of halving food waste by 2030. It will reveal that while two-thirds of the world’s 50 largest food companies have set targets to reduce food waste, only 30 percent are publicly reporting their progress. Similarly, in the UK, of the 156 companies signed up to the IGD roadmap – the UK specific commitment setting out the actions businesses will take to address their food waste – less than a third are publishing data.

At Tesco, we were the first retailer to publish food waste data for our UK operations in 2013 and this year, we have reported data for all the markets we operate in. Tesco Lotus and Malaysia have published data for the first this year, joining Tesco UK, Republic of Ireland and Central Europe. Seeing the figures in black and white was startling. But it focused our efforts on where we could make the biggest difference.

We set ourselves a target – no food safe for human consumption would go to waste in our stores. We knew we couldn’t make that happen alone, so we partnered with food redistribution charity FareShare and social enterprise FoodCloud to create Community Food Connection – a scheme that would allow colleagues in every one of our stores to offer our surplus food to local charities and community groups.

We’ve now donated 77 million meals since 2012 from our stores and distribution centres. We’re 80% of the way towards our target that no good food goes to waste and overall, we’ve reduced food safe for human consumption going to waste in our operations to 0.1% of sales. Today, we have announced a new partnership with Flamingo, a global supplier of fresh produce, that helps to redistribute food waste in Kenya. It means that surplus food from pack houses can be made into soup to feed 5,000 schoolchildren.

In addition to publishing our data, we have been working closely with suppliers to promote transparency across our supply chain. Today, 27 own brand suppliers, accounting for more than 50% of Tesco’s fresh food sales, published food waste data for the second year running and 11 branded suppliers have published their food waste data, nine for the first time.

In the last six years our suppliers have worked with us to look for new ways to use more of their crop – from selling ‘perfectly imperfect’ fruit and veg to helpful partnerships between suppliers. Branston, one of our potato suppliers, now sends 350 tonnes of misshapen potatoes to our ready meal supplier, Samworths.

We know that it can feel like a big step, but the results can be transformative. Publishing this information raises the bar on efficiency, innovation and accountability. And it is the only way to meaningfully drive change at the scale needed. That’s why I believe it must be mandatory.

The government is due to consult on this soon, but, as a responsible industry, we should not delay. Every second without action is wasting valuable time, valuable resources and wasting vast amounts of money. We must pick up the pace.

Without measuring the problem, you can’t hope to manage it. So, we urgently call on the government to introduce mandatory reporting. This will be good for business, great for the environment and essential to the UK being able to meet its promise to reduce food waste by halve by 2030.

David John Lewis Biography and Profile

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