Sunday, 29 May 2011

Fun Outings to Crap Headquarters 1: Tesco

An hour or so out of London, in the commuter belt, is a place called Cheshunt. It is home to the world’s crappest corporate headquarters. They belong to Tesco and they're situated in a light industrial zone, next door to Monster Gym, the first American style warehouse gym in the UK (satellite image here and google street view here)

This photo was taken in 2009, and at the time I was trying to sell Tesco esoteric financial derivatives. I sat in a room with someone from the treasury and suggested she should consider entering into a large transaction which, at the time, I thought to be in both our interests. She didn’t dig the idea, but appreciated the attempt. Innovation, she said, was what Tesco was all about.

Looking back, I feel privileged to have walked the crap linoleum floor of the world’s crappest corporate headquarters, to have seen the crap canteen plonked in the entrance lobby, and the crap cramped desks of the employees that run one of the world’s largest retailers. If nothing else, I was impressed to see a company truly living its values.

I had a reason to be there, but why would you want to go there? I think it’s worth a visit because Tesco is a key node in the global trade in consumer goods, and it’s startling that such an enormous task gets done in such a mundane setting.

Retailers, much like banks, act as intermediaries, but where banks act as intermediaries in investment goods, retailers act as intermediaries for consumption goods. As such, they are key gatekeepers between the world’s producers and us. Globalisation of consumer items, as it were, gets mediated through them.

In particular, globalisation gets sorted out in this warehouse, across the road from the headquarters. It’s where producers bring goods that they want Tesco to stock, to see if they make the cut. My mate Charlie has been in there, once upon a time when he was trying to start a business reliant on the consumer market. He tells of the horrors of that experience, watching a team of four inspectors move along the aisles, looking at proposed products. One is a product specialist. One is a floor layout specialist. One is a lawyer. One is a health and safety professional. Charlie has an entertaining tale, but it ends in tears and personal bankruptcy, which is one reason he ended up alongside me, trying to sell derivatives to pay off his debt.

Tesco may not have bankrupted you, but everyone has their connection to it, from fruit farmers in South Africa to London junkies. So go see Tesco and pay your respects to the most utterly shite, yet perhaps most authentic, corporate headquarters in the world. Take a photo, and if you see Elma, tell her Suitpossum says hi.

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