Case Study: Tesco


Tesco is a British multinational groceries and general merchandise retailer with its headquarters in the United Kingdom. Not only is Tesco one of the most valuable brands in the UK, but it is also the sixteenth most valuable retail brand worldwide as of 2021. In the UK, Tesco is the leading grocery retailer with a consistent share of over 27 percent of the market and is classed as one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets.

​The executive team for Tesco is based across Ireland, Asia and Europe with all functional team leads reporting to CEO, Ken Murphy. In 2018, Natasha Adams, then CPO and now CEO Tesco Ireland, attended Wavelength’s immersive learning study tour, Wavelength USA 2018 alongside 20 other exec level leaders from different sectors/continents, and in 2019 attended our bespoke ‘Silicon Valley Immersion’ with fifteen members of the Tesco Executive team.


Between 2014-2021 under the leadership of Sir Dave Lewis, the Tesco leadership team orchestrated a spectacular turnaround, resulting in a 34% surge in profits. However, then, as now, the retail landscape was under intense pressure as consumer behaviours changed, which has had a profound impact on the way in which people shop and eat.

Mindful of the pace of change and increasing customer demand, Tesco needed to pay serious attention to how it was innovating to remain relevant in this fast-paced, disruptive environment. How could they create the necessary conditions to use innovation as their catalyst for growth?

Wavelength were delighted that Tesco thought of us as their ideal partners in their journey towards embedding innovation in their strategy and outlook.

Silicon Valley Immersion Trip

“As a leadership team and as an organisation as a whole, we had to ask ourselves some tough questions. How could we collectively open our minds to innovate in a different way and think about innovation in the longer term? We needed to understand and feed off the big disruptions happening globally and specifically within the retail market,” commented Natasha Adams, former CPO and currently CEO, Tesco Ireland.

“Having attended the Wavelength USA trip the year before, I saw very clear synergies between that experience and the experience we wanted to create in the Tesco Silicon Valley Immersion trip. It was an opportunity to do something bespoke to focus on strategically important key themes.”

Tesco were seeking some very clear outcomes – namely, to change individual leaders’ frames of reference, mindset and expectation of innovation in their individual areas of the business. They wanted to stimulate a collective disruption around what the business was doing – and still needed to do – to fulfil their overarching strategy; all whilst remaining relevant and at the forefront of retail innovation.​

“We wanted to answer the question: ‘how do we become an innovative business where innovation flourishes to the advantage of our customers?’ This trip was about getting the stimulus to start that journey,” added Natasha.​

The bespoke Silicon Valley Immersion trip that Wavelength created for Tesco in 2019 was a world-class, unique three days packed with stimulus and encounters with the innovators, the disruptors and the enablers from across the Valley. The trip was curated around Tesco’s key strategic themes: food, loyalty, data, future of payments and AI.

Hosts included Silicon Valley Bank, Salesforce, Grove Collaborative, Starship Technologies, Andreesen Horowitz, Mayfield and a unique special event with a range of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, commentators and thought leaders.

Tesco Leaders' Event - Bringing Silicon Valley To London

Following the success of the bespoke Silicon Valley trip, Wavelength supported the next stage of the Tesco Innovation journey by designing a bespoke experience for the group which would recreate and build upon their Silicon Valley Immersion. This formed part of the Tesco October 2019 bi-annual two-day Leaders’ Event, which brought together 50 top global Tesco leaders.

Natasha was keen to involve elements from across the Silicon Valley programme in the Leaders event, with the aim of broadening the level of awareness for the need to innovate differently.

Experience and Results

For Natasha, the highlights of the Silicon Valley Immersion programme were in its breadth and diversity of content, and the top-notch quality of conversations.

“The openness and willingness of the host companies to engage with the Tesco Group meant that the brief for the trip was 100% met. And the real highlight was that the trip stimulated the disruption conversation and challenge we wanted and needed to move forward with our strategic plans” she said.

The participation of the Tesco top team in Wavelength programmes ignited serious change across the company.

As a direct result, Tesco completely re-examined and relaunched their approach to innovation – culminating in September 2020 with their launch of ‘Tesco Red Door’, their new approach to disruptive innovation. They invite innovators with new products, ideas, or emerging technologies with the potential to cause disruption in the future to contact this Group Innovation Team.

This team is now a single point of contact, responsible for quickly evaluating ideas, supporting partners to access Tesco, and helping them to develop and implement their ideas.

This team enables start-ups with products and services that could step change Tesco’s business to partner with them whilst the ‘mothership’ focuses on incrementally increasing service delivery to 24 customers every week. Current pilots include partnering with:

  • Manna to deliver groceries by Drone,
  • Turing to use AI to transform product development,
  • WhyBuy offering the opportunity for customers to access products and services without the cost of ownership.

A new role has also been created – Group Innovation Director. This role reports directly to the CEO and has a small working team with 100% backing from the executive team.

Smaller outcomes, but no less important, are that the executive team now have a markedly different perspective, connecting with entrepreneurs with whom they have built – and continue to build – key strategic partnerships.

What SAGA said

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