Nic Paton profiles top supermarkets Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's, and looks at their HR strategies and what they have planned for the future
Asda is the UK's second biggest supermarket chain after Tesco. It has 279 stores, including its first 12 in Northern Ireland added in June 2005, 150,000 employees and sales in 2003 (the last figures available) of £14.4bn. It was bought in 1999 by US retail giant Wal-Mart.
Unlike the troubled industrial relations of its parent company, Asda has a very different reputation in terms of how it treats its workers.
In the 1980s, the business was considered something of an industry basket-case, but it was turned around and then massively expanded in the 1990s, first under Archie Norman and then Allan Leighton.
More recently, however, things have looked less rosy, with the departure of chief executive Tony DeNunzio in March, sales under pressure and its market share slipping. Asda overtook Sainsbury's in 2003 but last month warned that Sainsbury's could claw its way back past the Leeds-based retailer.
DeNunzio's replacement, Andy Bond, who was promoted from chief operating officer, has turned to his employees - or 'colleagues' as Asda prefers to call them - for help, offering bonuses for suggestions on how to cut costs. He has also begun overhauling the management team, bringing back the well-regarded former logistics director David Cheeswright, who had left to run Wal-Mart's Canadian business.
Asda recruits between 7,000 and 10,000 people a year. The ethos behind recruitment is to hire “for attitude rather than skills”.
Between 60 and 70 graduates are hired a year, and are put through a three-year training scheme in one of the following fields: finance, logistics, IT, buying or trading, retail and the clothing arm George. Graduates on the retail scheme can also do a stint with Wal-Mart.
Preferred recruitment methods for colleagues are in-store advertisements and job centres, while for graduates, the internet and signing up people who have had holiday jobs are common routes.
Four years ago, it launched a 'talent race', designed to recruit or promote a more ethnically diverse range of managers.
Staff turnover is currently 25%, which Asda argues is the lowest in the sector “by a substantial margin”. At manager-level, the split between home-grown and imported talent is ab