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Matt Davies to join service focused turnaround plan at supermarket giant

Matt Davies, CEO at Halfords since 2012, is to leave the car parts and bikes retail giant to take up the role of UK CEO at troubled supermarket chain Tesco.

Davies joined Halfords Group in October 2012 and immediately set about trying to improve its fortunes with a focus on staff training and retention, in-store presentation and on-line.

Since then Halfords has returned consistently high growth, driven by increases in its cycling sales. Most recently, Halfords announced that cycling sales had increased by 16 per cent during the first half of its current financial year.

Halfords does not appear to have just been riding on the increased popularity of cycling in urban centres such as London (which some in the bike trade say is not affecting sales).

On Davies' watch, the company renewed its relationship with Boardman Bikes, an agreement Chris Boardman said had depended on Davies' plans for the business, then bought the brand. Last year, Halfords launched its own high-end range, 13 Bikes and opened its first central London store under the Cycle Republic brand.

Tesco, on the other hand, has not had a good couple of years. A well-publicised £250m accounting problem in its profit forecasts was just the tip of the iceberg as its share price fell 50 percent after a decrease in profits and market share.

Tesco group chief executive Dave Lewis was brought in to try and stem the tide of disasters. Davies' appointment is in line with the comments he has been making about putting customer service first.

Tesco announced today that it will close 43 stores — mostly Tesco Express convenience stores — and put on ice plans for 49 new "very large" stores.

Halfords chairman Dennis Millard thinks Davies is the right man to turn Tesco around. He told Bloomberg News that Davies understood the need for a service-led culture and at Halfords had built a strong management team, making the company a more desirable place to work.

“When we were looking for a CEO, Matt hit the middle of the bullseye and I suspect Tesco will feel the same way,” said Millard. With Lewis making public comments about prioritizing service to customers “it almost looked like Matt had written the script.”

According to Bikebiz Millard said that Davies had made an "outstanding contribution to the business," and added: "We have set a clear direction, built significant momentum across the organisation and are making good progress."

A statement from Davies said:

"My decision to leave has been very difficult. I have really enjoyed my time at Halfords, working with a great team of people across the business, helping to create and deliver a clear service-focused strategy. I am fully committed to driving the business over the next few months before I depart."

Although Davies is a keen cyclist, it does seem unlikely that cycling will play any part in his plans to turn Tesco around.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.