Business View: I foresee a wind of change blowing through Bradford

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The Independent Online

My mother is fond of saying how she remembers Sir Ken Morrison when his family ran a market stall in Bradford. These days, Wm Morrison is looking like the only serious contender to Tesco in the battle for the mass-market grocery wallet.

My mother is fond of saying how she remembers Sir Ken Morrison when his family ran a market stall in Bradford. These days, Wm Morrison is looking like the only serious contender to Tesco in the battle for the mass-market grocery wallet.

But not if it keeps hiccuping with the indigestion of the Safeway purchase. Another £40m of bad news was revealed on Thursday and the City is steeling itself for less- than-thrilling figures this week. Investors are muttering that it would have been better if Sir Ken had not spent the £1.5bn he did on the ailing Safeway. But they are wrong.

The increasing dominance of Tesco has had detrimental effects on suppliers and on smaller chains. J Sainsbury has been cowed and Asda is now complaining that it is hard to compete with Sir Terry Leahy's monster. With planning laws preventing large-scale building of big new supermarkets, the only way Morrisons could take on Tesco was to buy Safeway.

The issue is management. No one doubts Sir Ken is a retailing genius, but he is a 73- year-old genius. The three directors who run Morrisons with him - Bob Stott, Marie Melnyk and Martin Ackroyd - joined the company in 1973, 1975 and 1974 respectively. There is a shortage of fresh blood in the system.

The City is pinning its hopes on two new non-executives, David Jones and Duncan Davidson, who were appointed with a metaphorical gun to Sir Ken's head. In meetings that will follow the results, investors will question the quality of the group's financial controls, and finance director Martin Ackroyd could be the first to feel the wind of change blowing through Bradford.

What the City really wants is for Morrisons to say who will be boss when Sir Ken is no longer there. As we can assume it won't be Mr Ackroyd, and Mr Stott is planning to retire soon, the odds are on Ms Melnyk. But she only emerged, blinking, into the glare of the City after Morrisons bid for Safeway. The feeling is that she needs a strong chairman to help her.

Step forward David Jones, former chief executive of Next. This then creates a vacancy for at least one, if not two, non-executives. That, and a likely new finance director, mean a change is truly about to come at Morrisons.

Wolf at the World Bank

Geoffrey Lean has set out this paper's position on the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank in our editorial section. You won't be surprised to know we're opposed.

But this is not liberal hand-wringing. Serious bankers, many of whom have views that would not be out of line with Mr Wolfowitz's on issues such as Iraq and deregulation, say this appointment should be blocked. And why? Because it sends out the wrong message about the attitude of rich nations to the poor.

No one doubts that the World Bank needs a kick up the arse. The gentle prodding of James Wolfensohn, the outgoing president, has yielded some progress on efficiency, transparency and direction. But it is still an unwieldy beast. And bringing someone in who can knock it into shape seems a good idea.

But to bring someone in from the Pentagon is not going to help. How can a member of an administration that was caught giving lucrative contracts to its friends at Halliburton push the World Bank's agenda on tackling Third World corruption? How can someone so instrumental in the Bush administration's unilateral policy on trade and foreign policy be seen as a legitimate guardian of one of the key multilateral organisations in the world?

The concern most voiced to me is that Mr Wolfowitz will continue to pursue the Bush doctrine of spreading democracy by any means necessary. These people point out that the World Bank's main aim is to lift people out of poverty - something that can get confused by issues within the countries it is helping. If there is another key goal being pursued, that will divert the World Bank from its purpose.

Ultimately I think George Bush nominated Mr Wolfowitz to see how scared everyone is of the US. If Europe accepts him, then Mr Bush knows he can get away with blue murder. If the nomination is blocked, he will come back with a slightly more moderate Prince of Darkness - who will be welcomed with open arms.

j.nisse@independent.co.uk

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