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The Far East movement: Tesco sells Korean arm for £4.2bn, while Unilever scales in Asia

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Following the appointment of CEO Dave Lewis in late 2014, which coincided with Tesco overstating profits by £263m, the supermarket chain has continued to make significant movements to turn its financial situation around.

Chairman Richard Broadbent stood down from his role and called the profit error a “profound regret” at the time, while 2015 opened to the announcement 43 stores and one head office would face closure.

Broadbent, meanwhile, wasn’t the only senior executive to exit the company as CEO Dave Lewis has this year also disposed of the finance director, chief creative officer, strategy director, and the head of Tesco’s dining division.

Now continuing his mission on cutbacks, Lewis has overseen the sale of the company’s Korea-based Homeplus division for a sum of £4.2bn.

A group of investors have been involved in the takeover, including MBK Partners, Canada Pension Plan, Public Sector Pension and Temasek Holdings, while the deal is set to be completed in Q4 if approvals are granted by shareholders and regulators.

“After a highly competitive process, we are announcing today the proposed sale of Homeplus, our business in the Republic of Korea. This sale realises material value for shareholders and allows us to make significant progress on our strategic priority of protecting and strengthening our balance sheet,” Lewis said.

“I would like to thank all of our Homeplus colleagues for their dedication, professionalism and service to our customers, which has resulted in the creation of a great business. I am confident that the agreement we have reached with MBK Partners presents an exciting opportunity for their continued success.”

Read more on Asian business developments:

Prior to joining Tesco, Lewis was a long-serving employee at Unilever – which counts Tesco among its biggest customers – with 27 years under his belt. And despite the financial problems, as well as Tesco topping a list of supplier complaints, Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman has backed Lewis and said the company has “good relations” with the supermarket.

The two firms even partnered up for a mobile marketing campaign in June, whichprovided shoppers visiting Tesco stores the opportunity to secure discounts on Unilever’s Magnum ice creams – a feat made possible with increasingly popular use oflocation-triggered beacon tech.

However, while Tesco is planning to exit its Southeast Asia business, Unilever has revealed it will scale in the region to “engage with millions of customers” with the help of mobile marketing service Brandtone, which secured an €18.5m investment to expand globally during the summer.

The Irish partner of Unilever has been enlisted to support the FMCG firm’s aims of capitalising on the rising use of mobile phones in areas including Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Rahul Welde, Unilever’s VP of media for Asia, Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Russia, said: “South East Asia is a hugely exciting market for our brands because its consumers are highly aspirational, and increasingly open to technology-led innovations.

“It is the ideal environment for mobile engagement to flourish – allowing our brands to engage in long-term, one-to-one dialogue with millions of consumers at scale.”

As part of the new deal, Brandtone will build on an existing partnership that has resulted in successful mobile-based promotions for Magnum and soap brand Sunlight in Indonesia, which have been named among some of the most successful campaigns for Unilever so far.

“When we announced our expansion into Indonesia almost a year ago, even we could not have predicted the scale of demand from brands for mobile-first data-led marketing strategies – nor how receptive consumers themselves would be,” said Donald Fitzmaurice, CEO, Brandtone.

“The region as a whole is at a tipping point in terms of embracing its economic development and embracing global brands, so it is the perfect time for our clients to use the power of mobile and big data to build ongoing relationships with consumers.”

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