// Former Tesco boss Dave Lewis knighted in New Year’s Honours after turning around grocery giant
// When he joined in 2014, Tesco posted a £6.4bn loss and last year, it surged to £551 half-year profit amidst the pandemic
// Elsewhere, Mel Smith, the boss of Ocado Retail – the M&S and Ocado joint venture – was named a CBE
Former Tesco boss Dave Lewis has been knighted after turning around the fortunes of the UK’s biggest grocery chain and largest private employer.
Lewis, who was dubbed “Drastic Dave” for major cost-cutting at the start of his leadership, was recognised in the New Year honours for his services to the food industry and business.
When he arrived at Tesco in 2014, his first major task was to announce that the Big 4 grocer had overstated its historical profits by £326 million.
The subsequent accounting scandal led to a company fine of £129 million and £85 million in compensation for investors, and was soon followed by Tesco posting a £6.4 billion loss.
However Lewis, who had joined the retailer from consumer goods giant Unilever, set it on the path to recovery over the next six years.
He dramatically slashed costs across the business and sold off non-core parts of the retail business.
Tesco surged to a £551 million pre-tax profit in the half-year to September, in Lewis’ final period in charge of Tesco, before Ken Murphy took over the role the following month.
It delivered a 29 per cent jump in profits despite facing heavy costs due to the pandemic as it benefited from surging demand for groceries and the rapid expansion of its online operations.
It followed a strong 2019-2020 financial year, which had seen Lewis handed a £6.42 million pay packet by Tesco’s board, representing a more-than-30 per cent jump in his total pay.
However, shareholders voted against the pay deals for its directors, including Lewis, with 67.3 per cent of votes at its AGM being cast against the pay package.
The knighthood also comes after a year which saw Tesco create more than 16,000 permanent jobs during the pandemic, as it battled significant supply chain pressures to get food on to shelves.
Shortly after his departure, Tesco became the first non-essential retailer to say it would hand back business rates support it received during the pandemic.
Tesco handed back £585 million in business rates relief and caused a domino effect among its rivals which has seen about £2 billion repaid to the Treasury.
Meanwhile, the boss of Ocado and Marks & Spencer’s retail collaboration, Mel Smith, was made a CBE in recognition for her service to the retail sector and efforts to keep food on tables during the pandemic.
Last year, Smith was appointed to lead Ocado Retail, the £1.5 billion joint venture between M&S and Ocado.
Smith, who had previously been strategy director at M&S, led the preparations for the launch of the tie-up in September 2020, amid soaring grocery demand in the face of the pandemic.
Ocado hailed the new delivery deal, saying that customers were buying more M&S goods than they did Waitrose products, in Ocado’s previous grocery partnership.
The retail operation, which hired thousands of new staff during the year, also adapted to another jump in demand when England’s second national lockdown came into force in November.
with PA Wires