FORMER B&Q chief executive Euan Sutherland can seem like a man who has discovered, while constructing a shed, that the instructions have been lost, some of the parts are broken and he has to guess which bits go where. When his appointment as chief executive of Co-operative Group was announced in December there was little sign of the chaos that was to unfold even before he got his feet under his new desk. Co-op Bank's attempted purchase of Lloyds Banking Group's Verde portfolio was dragging on but there was lots of political goodwill towards a beefed-up mutually owned challenger to the high street giants. It seemed that it was its food business, struggling in a cut- throat market, that needed help. Not only have Co-op Bank's expansion plans been stymied but control of the lender has been lost to hedge funds. Co-op's life and savings business has been hived off. Its general insurance business has been put up for sale and taken off again. Now unspecified property sales have been mooted. This all gives the impression that Co-op's managers are, to an extent, making things up as they go along. To his credit, Mr Sutherland has managed, thus far, to retain well-regarded businesses such as its funerals arm, which has long been coveted by private equity firms. He has brought in experienced executives and has the backing of a well-known if tarnished brand. He now has to show that he has a clear vision of what Co-op will look like when he has finished his reforms.
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