Tesco’s chair, John Allan, is to step down next month after eight years in the role following allegations about his behaviour towards women that risked “becoming a distraction” to the UK’s largest supermarket chain.
Allan, also a former president of the CBI business lobby group, denies three separate allegations of inappropriate conduct. He “unreservedly” apologised for a fourth allegation in which he admitted to telling a female CBI employee that her dress “suited her figure”.
The supermarket group has started looking for his successor and would conclude the process “in the near future”, it said.
Allan will step down on June 16 at Tesco’s annual meeting. Byron Grote, the supermarket’s senior independent director, will become interim chair.
The three allegations denied by Allan include two separate alleged incidents of touching a woman’s bottom at a CBI dinner in May 2019 and then during Tesco’s annual shareholder meeting in June last year. Allan has also denied a claim that in 2021 he made comments about a woman’s bottom.
Tesco on Friday said it did not identify any evidence or complaints in relation to the AGM or Allan’s behaviour during his tenure after it launched “an extensive review of the allegation”, which was reported by The Guardian newspaper earlier this month.
Tesco said it got in touch with attendees at the meeting, including former employees, to ask them to come forward if they had concerns.
The Guardian report came in the wake of the scandal that has engulfed the CBI. The lobbying group’s future is now uncertain after more than a dozen women made complaints about a toxic culture at the group, as well as allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and other workplace misconduct.
Allan said in a statement on Friday: “It is with regret that I am having to prematurely stand down from my position as chair of Tesco Plc following the anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations made against me, as reported by the Guardian. These allegations are utterly baseless, as the internal procedures undertaken by Tesco prove.”
He added: “Tesco undertook an ‘extensive internal review’ which included inviting Tesco employees and ex-employees to come forward on an anonymous basis if they had concerns about my conduct. Tesco also conducted outreach to those who attended the meeting where the incident allegedly happened, and video footage of the meeting has also been reviewed. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing at that time or at any stage of my chairmanship at Tesco and I remain determined to prove my innocence.”
Grote praised the 74-year-old for his “valuable contribution to Tesco” but said the recent allegations “risk becoming a distraction” to the company. He added that the board’s search for a new chair was “well advanced”. According to previous reports, Allan was due to step down early next year.