July 7, 2011 6:36 am

Tesco opens Asia training academy

Tesco has opened an academy in South Korea to train its 100,000 staff across Asia in skills ranging from online retail to filleting spider crabs, highlighting its increasing dependence on the region.

The group posted Asian sales last year of £11bn ($18bn) from South Korea, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and India, compared with £45bn at home.

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Tesco says it is the first FTSE 100 company to open such a training academy in Asia. It has invested more than £30m in the water-front facility, which lies on Yeongjong island off the west coast, site of Incheon international airport, the main arrival point for visitors to Seoul.

Some 24,000 employees will attend training courses there each year, the supermarket group said in a statement. The campus also includes a Tesco museum to give staff an understanding of the company’s roots.

Lee Seung-han, Tesco’s chief executive in Korea, said the site had been chosen because of highly auspicious feng shui.

“It is an ideal location with mountains at the back and water in front, in the shape of a golden hen sitting on eggs. This symbolises ‘making a fortune’, which means a great business,” he said at Thursday’s opening ceremony.

The courses at the academy range across all of Tesco’s operations, from management theory for executives through to more practical courses in areas such as the proper handling of meat and fish.

“We have plans to expand across Asia in the years to come. We need to develop our local talent,” said Philip Clarke, Tesco chief executive.

South Korea is Tesco’s biggest market outside the UK. It runs supermarkets there under the Homeplus brand.

Tesco’s Korean supermarkets are at the heart of a long-running political battle in Korea about whether supermarkets are crushing small markets and corner shops.

To protect smaller traders, South Korean politicians have sought to limit the areas where supermarkets can open. Last year they enacted legislation that small shopholders can use to prevent supermarkets opening close to them.

European Union diplomats say it is unclear how effective this legislation will be but warn it could put Seoul in breach of a trade deal with the EU that came into force at the start of this month.

Faced with such political opposition to its supermarkets, Tesco is keen to portray itself as fostering a sense of community in Korea. Unusually for supermarkets elsewhere in the world, Tesco in Korea runs cultural centres offering services such as violin classes and English lessons.

Tesco’s pre-tax profit rose 11 per cent to £3.5bn in the year to February.

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