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Tesco Moves China CEO to Fresh & Easy

CHESHUNT, England — Tesco here is bringing one of its top international executives to oversee store operations at its struggling Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain in the U.S. in what some see as a critical effort to drive that banner into the black.

Tim Ashdown, chief executive officer of Tesco China, was named to succeed Jeff Adams as chief retail officer at Fresh & Easy. He will be tasked with running the day-to-day business while Fresh & Easy’s CEO, Tim Mason, splits time between the U.S. and his role as deputy CEO and chief marketing officer at Tesco.

“There’s more pressure than ever before to move Fresh & Easy out of the red,” Natalie Berg, global research director at Planet Retail, London, told SN. “There have been a number of changes at the top, and with Mason spending more and more time outside the U.S., it will be crucial that any strategic shifts are well-executed.”

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She noted that Ashdown is “Tesco born and bred” and has experience running the company’s business in South Korea, its largest market outside the U.K.

“His appointment doesn’t necessarily signal a ready-made successor for Mason,” Berg explained. “He will, however, be tasked with improving operational efficiencies and cutting costs so that Fresh & Easy can finally reach profitability. Investors’ patience is beginning to wane.”

Ashdown joined Tesco in 1981. In 2008 he was named chief operating officer of Tesco’s Homeplus chain in South Korea; last February he was named CEO of Tesco China.

Neil Stern, senior partner at McMillan Doolittle, Chicago, told SN that “moving Ashdown to Fresh & Easy is akin to bringing in heavy artillery to solve its issues in the U.S.”

“He’s definitely not there to be a caretaker,” he said.

Stern said Ashdown will “bring operational discipline to Fresh & Easy. He’s known for running strong retail operations, and the stores will be better once he’s there because operations is where he’ll put a lot of his focus.”

Adams, who has overseen operations at Fresh & Easy since 2008, will become CEO of Tesco’s operations in Turkey. Adams, an American, joined Fresh & Easy as executive vice president, operations, in March 2008 and was named chief retail officer two months later. Before coming to Fresh & Easy, he had been chief operating officer of Tesco Lotus, the chain’s Thailand operation, since 2004.

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