Jim Armitage: Supermarkets better places to shop thanks to Asda old school

 

Outlook Remember that arcade game in the 1980s – Whac-a-Mole? You get a mallet and clobber the brown, furry creatures that pop out of holes in the machine. Each time you whack one, another jumps up in its place.

The same thing happens with former Asda managers. One gets whacked, only for another to appear. And so it was with Sainsbury’s, where former Asda manager Justin King is disappearing (not whacked, I hasten to add) to be replaced by fellow Asda graduate Mike Coupe. Mr King was at the Asda mothership under Archie Norman and Allan Leighton, who were like cult leaders in the 1990s. Others have included Richard Baker, Dalton Philips, Kate Bostock, Anthony Thompson, Tony Campbell, Phil Dutton, not to mention Andy Hornby, a better retailer than banker...

The Leighton/Norman Asda was like an MBA school for retail execs. It knocked on the head the old idea of the potentate chief executive handing down orders from the top. Power was granted to team managers, making everyone “feel like an entrepreneur”, as one alumnus puts it. The head office, with its easy chairs and deep carpets, was scaled back to a minimum, putting managers where they should be – in the stores. Staff on the shopfloor – those dealing daily with customers – were encouraged to advise managers on what the punters really wanted. And what did they want? Cheap stuff. Asda delivered that by the juggernaut-load, through a ruthlessly efficient supply chain.

But customer service was good too. Staff share incentive schemes – still not as common as they should be – were introduced, as was a “Tell Archie” suggestion box, reputed to have received 45,000 suggestions in five years. Brilliantly, Mr Norman claimed to have read them all.

It seems old hat these days – clichéd even – calling workers “colleagues” and such. But it made supermarkets better places to shop.

Apart from Mars in the 1980s, where Messrs Leighton, Norman and King worked through their L-plates, it’s hard to think of another corporate school with such long tendrils. Except, perhaps, Goldman Sachs, which seems to spawn every central banker, US treasury secretary or other archwarden of global capital. Those connections, highlighted so starkly during the financial crisis, seem far more sinister than Asda and a few big grocery shops, of course.

You can still find that game with the mallet and moles, by the way. On Southwold Pier in Suffolk, they customised it while we were bailing out RBS, Lloyds and the rest of them. Now it’s called Whack-a-Banker.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat