Comment: This could be the high-water mark for Tesco

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The Independent Online
Judged by the depth of his George Hamilton-style tan, Lord MacLaurin, Britain's leading grocer, has been winding down from his duties at Tesco for some time. Just back from a tour of Zimbabwe and New Zealand with the England cricket team (where no doubt he slipped in a couple of rounds of golf as well), he is already gearing up for another round of bonding sessions with England's cricketers where he will try to imbue them with some Tesco-style winning spirit.

Still, at least he managed to draw breath yesterday for his farewell set of Tesco results prior to his retirement in June. He could not have asked for a more triumphant exit had it all been meticulously planned. Record profits, Britain's top supermarket group, businessman of the year and recently ennobled to boot. Perhaps he should run for Prime Minister or deputy God.

But what of the MacLaurin legacy? Will the bandwagon continue to roll or does this mark Tesco's high-water mark? It is hard to level criticism at a man who turned a ramshackle, family-run outfit into a finely tuned prizefighter that has even the mighty Sainsbury on the ropes. From getting out of green shield stamps and taking Tesco upmarket in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the company has made relentless progress.

From loyalty cards to derivative formats, to financial services, Tesco got there first and forced the rest to follow. There have been mistakes. France looks as if it has been mothballed and it would be no surprise if the Catteau business was sold altogether before long. And analysts say that Tesco might have lost it in the early 1990s but for an influx of new blood in the shape of Terry Leahy, chief executive.

Many are going to say that Tesco's purple patch cannot last for too much longer, and that Lord MacLaurin's successors cannot hope to match him. Such was Tony Greener's fate when he took over at Guinness. Suddenly the market didn't seem so easy as in the Sir Anthony Tennant era. Stock market expectations had in any case become exaggerated, as they once were for Sainsbury, and Mr Greener's unenviable task was to restore reality. It could happen in the trolley wars too. Sainsbury must surely recover ground soon and Safeway continues to make headway.

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