August 24, 2011 8:08 pm

Tesco board under scrutiny as Higginson leaves

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Andrew Higginson, the executive in charge of Tesco’s banking and online operations, is to leave the world’s third-largest grocer in the first big board departure since the arrival of Philip Clarke as chief executive.

Experienced Tesco watchers said Mr Higginson’s retirement could be a prelude to further board changes at Britain’s largest supermarket group by market share. In March the company underwent its biggest management transition in 14 years when Mr Clarke succeeded Sir Terry Leahy as chief executive.

Tesco said Mr Higginson, chief executive of its retailing services division, had “informed the company of his intention to retire from the board and executive committee next year, on September 1 2012” when he will be 55.

However, a year ago, Mr Higginson indicated that he would retire at 60. He was one of a clutch of senior directors beaten by Mr Clarke to the top job.

One person close to the situation said Mr Higginson had “done a bit of a Terry Leahy. Now he’s planning to have a change of what he’s going to do”.

They said Mr Higginson, formerly Tesco’s finance director, would not receive a pay-off. He would be entitled to his shares, share options and pension. But he would not be taking his pension, which is payable at 60, early.

He had 1.35m shares worth about £5m ($8m), and 3.5m share options, according to Tesco’s annual report. The transfer value of his pension was £6.1m.

The move comes at a delicate time for Tesco, which is poised to launch new banking products including mortgages and current accounts.

Experienced Tesco watchers also suggested that the change might not be the last for the board, which will also have a new chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, in November.

Richard Brasher, chief executive of Tesco’s domestic business, is under pressure after sales lagged behind J Sainsbury and Wm Morrison, its rivals, in the four weeks to August 7.

Just less than a year ago, Lucy Neville-Rolfe, director of corporate and legal affairs, became a non-executive director of ITV, leading the speculation that she could leave Tesco to take up a number of non-executive roles once Mr Clarke was settled in.

Meanwhile, David Potts, retail director, was given by Sir Terry the role of head of Asia, a region that Mr Clarke knows well. Tim Mason, chief executive of Fresh & Easy, the US chain, is also spending about a third of his time outside the US.

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