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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links