It was in a bar on the other side of the world earlier this week that I first heard whispers Dan Jago might be making a sensational return to Tesco and the BWS department he was suspended from last October.
I wasn’t surprised to be discussing Jago thousands of miles away in Australia: the former global head of BWS has always been a man whose influence makes him a hot topic of conversation and never more so than over the past four months.
In September, the discovery of a £250 million black hole in Tesco’s profits erupted into one of the most explosive stories in the sector’s history, sending shares crashing and leaving incoming chief executive Dave Lewis with a gargantuan problem to resolve.
Deloitte and Freshfields launched an investigation and within a few weeks, already fighting a tidal wave of negative publicity, Tesco’s PR machine was again on the back foot when it suspended three executives.
Desperate to avoid further scrutiny and media glare, Tesco resisted publicly naming the staff affected, but word was already out. News that Jago was among the senior personnel asked to step aside while the investigation continued rocked the industry.
Though the precise details of the probe and Tesco’s concerns were not made public – and Jago has never been accused of any wrongdoing – the industry rumour mill went into inevitable overdrive.
The shock and overwhelming support for a figure who has contributed such enormous energy and leadership to the industry was palpable – many have already hailed his return.
But not everyone shared this view. Though a number of suppliers and industry names spoke out both privately and more openly about their confidence Jago would be completely exonerated, some were less generous.
Despite not being privy to the facts of the situation, in a few quarters Jago had been judged and written off, producers with an axe to grind relishing what they perceived as his fall from grace.
Hasty judgements they must now regret.
In fairness, even those who had stood by Jago thought it was unlikely he would return to the business. Speculation about where he might resurface had been rife, with a number of suppliers known to be courting him. But by the time my plane had landed this Wednesday, Jago had dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on his move back to Tesco.
Recently exonerated by the supermarket, returning to a senior wine role marks the final part of the process of clearing his name and restarting his long career with the retailer.
He will, however, not be picking up precisely where he left off, having been handed a newly created position. Gavin Warburton, who oversaw the department in Jago’s absence, has been promoted to the role of UK category director for BWS, while Jago will return to work on March 9 as category director – group wine, reporting to commercial director Kari Daniels.
In a statement, Tesco said: “Dan has worked for Tesco for nine years, specialising in the wine as well as the broader drinks category. He has led the wine team to great success and achieved industry recognition for the Tesco wine in-store offering and online proposition.”
But exactly what is he returning to and what does it mean for the wine industry?
Tesco’s move to drop a third of its wine range was taken during his absence so in many ways he faces something of a new world order, although it’s not the first time Jago has steered the retailer though a seismic range cull. If his past actions are anything to go by, he will be adamant to ensure cutting back does not mean dumbing down, but weeding out duplication.
The recent saga also means he, more than anyone else in the business, will be focused on Lewis’s vision for Tesco and, having felt the cold chill of being forced onto the sidelines, he will want to deliver results.
Jago’s return is a significant vote of confidence by Lewis and his board and crushes the assertions of those who couldn’t hold back their mud slinging. It comes just weeks after Laura Jewell MW deserted her Tesco position for the top job at Wine Australia UK and specualtion that buyers could be facing redundancy following the range review.
Tesco is tight-lipped about Jewell’s replacement, but Jago will be a much-needed presence to steady the ship.
The retailer has a lot of catching up to do in terms of winning back some of the considerable gloss its image has lost with consumers and the City, and Jago will waste no time in rolling his sleeves up.
Ultimately, the fact that Tesco’s team can lay this particularly unpleasant and much-hyped chapter in its history to rest is not only good news for those personally involved, it’s also significantly important to the industry.
The trade needs a strong Tesco, and Lewis’s efforts are centred on ensuring Tesco comes back stronger, with a new culture which puts it beyond reproach.
Hopefully Jago’s reinstatement means its wine division will regain its rudder and the country’s number one retailer will stop being in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and concentrate on leading.