Michelle McEttrick Tesco Group brand director

Michelle McEttrick

Group brand director, Tesco

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McEttrick’s appointment at Tesco in April could be just what the troubled supermarket needs – she was chosen by chief executive Dave Lewis, who patently considers her a key component in his turnaround plan. 

McEttrick’s experience is diverse, her CV impressive – she has held leadership roles at various agencies, including BBH and McCann Erickson, and commanded marketing posts at the likes of Barclays and Coca-Cola.

The Michelle I Know, by Jim Carroll, former UK chairman at BBH 

Michelle McEttrick’s signature karaoke tune is You’re So Vain. She delivers it with great gusto, expressive hand gestures and without the assistance of a set of lyrics to read from. But vanity is not a condition from which Michelle suffers. She defines a new model of marketing leadership, one that is modest, understated and generous. She leads from the shop floor rather than the stage; she prioritises relationships over personal recognition, people over power.

Hers is a gentler, more empathetic leadership style, one suited to the age of diversity, colleague empowerment and agency partnership; where organisational and cultural change reside at the heart of many brand challenges, where strong-arm tactics and tub-thumping speeches pay diminishing returns. 

However, it’s not a style of leadership that lacks conviction or determination. Michelle is warm-hearted,
but also cool-headed; she trusts expertise, but she also trusts her own judgement. One colleague described her as "elegantly assertive". 

Lindsay Pattison, chief executive of Maxus Worldwide, knows Michelle well from her time at Barclays and from WACL. She summarises her distinctive gifts thus: "Michelle is searingly smart. She cuts through process and clutter to enable agencies to deliver brilliant work. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but is also fiercely loyal and fabulous fun."

Michelle was born in Palo Alto, California and grew up in Spokane, Washington State. She studied English literature at Trinity College, a liberal arts college in Hartford, Connecticut. Her education took her to the University of East Anglia in 1987, and there began her love affair with the British – their understatement, rudimentary cooking and chatter about the weather.

Michelle retains the accent of a West Coast American, but has the dry wit of an authentic East Ender. She is funny, free-spirited and mischievous. She is readily enthusiastic and easily bored. And occasionally, late at night, she can balance a full pint of beer on her head.

Michelle has worked on both sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the client-agency divide. Her agency journey took her from McCann Erickson, Seattle to BBDO Portugal and then BBH London. Her client experience ranges from Coca-Cola in Atlanta to digital food brand Allrecipes.com, and from Safeco Insurance to Barclays, where she was managing director, group brand and marketing.

"She leads from the shop floor rather than the stage; she prioritises relationships over personal recognition, people over power"

David Wheldon, chief marketing officer at RBS and Michelle’s former boss at Barclays, suggests that this blend of experience is a real asset. "Michelle has worked on both sides of the fence. This really helps her get the very best out of her external partners, and her very well-honed account-handling skills enable her to work through the complexities of stakeholder management," he says. 

Another of her previous bosses reports that Michelle "blends an analytical approach with an intangible ‘secret sauce’". 

So what is that secret sauce? Nigel Bogle, founding partner of BBH, suggests that there’s something very special about Michelle’s positivity and refusal to be ruffled. "Michelle is one of the most positive people I have ever met," he says. "She is inspiring to be around and commanded great ‘follower-ship’ from her team. She exudes a sense of calm, which makes her easy to work with, but she is steely when she needs to be and great fun when she doesn’t."

Perhaps Michelle’s passion for the meditative powers of yoga is transmitted to the workplace. Certainly this serenity is consistently cited as her trump card. And Mel Exon, managing director of BBH London, speaks of Michelle’s "grace and humour" under pressure. "She is very demanding, but extremely human. She never raises her voice or panics. She doesn’t transmit stress, but can communicate urgency. She makes quick, but not hasty, decisions," she says.

Michelle is one of those rare individuals who retains a sense of perspective. She is well-read and hugely sociable. She is not defined by her job. She has a hinterland. In 2011 she worked through breast cancer with a determination and composure that was humbling to all who observed it. She continues to be a mentor and inspiration to many women and men.

As group brand director at Tesco, Michelle faces the toughest challenge of her career: rebuilding marketing at the heart of the Tesco business and re-establishing the Tesco brand in the hearts of British consumers. 

Neil Munn, chief executive of BBH, is confident that she will succeed."Michelle has a steady hand and a steely eye," he says. "You know that with her at the helm the direction of travel will be consistent, the journey collaborative and the end point better than where you started."

So, Michelle is a thoroughly modern marketing leader. One who believes in the power of partnership, team and relationships to make a positive impact; who brings calm, positivity and fun to her work, as well as determination and creative conviction. Perhaps there’s another Carly Simon song more suited to her personality and talents: Nobody Does It Better.