Lord MacLaurin checks out for last time

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The Independent Online
Clifford German

There was a distinctly end-of term feeling at the Seven Kings Suite in the Royal Lancaster Hotel yesterday as Lord MacLaurin bowed out at the Tesco annual general meeting after 38 years with the company, 27 of them on the board. His last appearance as chairman brought to an end an era which began when Tesco's founder Sir Jack Cohen was still in charge of a company which operated under the philosophy of "pile it high, sell it cheap".

Lord MacLaurin's reign, though, has seen that philospohy consigned to history and ended with the company as market leader and a reputation in the City as one of the strongest shares in the retail sector.

Around 300 shareholders gathered to hear him make his valedictory report, and collect a doggy-bag containing a bottle of Australian red wine. He presides over a company whose share price has risen while he has been on the board from 20p in 1970 to yesterday's price of 374p, comfortably outperforming the stock market over the years. But in the circumstances Lord MacLaurin's farewell statement was a rather low-key affair.

The meeting was all over in 62 minutes. Questions from the floor began and ended with a copious amount of eulogies for Lord MacLaurin The first question from a small shareholder drew a parallel between his successful time at Tesco and the success of the England cricket team in the First Test against Australia.

They ended with a fulsome tribute from David Rough, the group director of investments at Legal & General, who spoke for the institutional shareholders.

"This man made Tesco a global player in the Premier League", Mr Rough enthused. "He presided over nothing less than a revolution in retailing. He reinvented and rejuvenated the company twice, maybe three times. He masterminded Tesco's move from a succession of small stores into a range of large High Street stores in the seventies, then spearheaded the shift towards edge of town superstores in the Eighties."

Mr Rough also praised the retiring chairman's skills as a member of the Chelsea Youth team in the fifties alongside Jimmy Grieves and the fact that he was captain of the English Schools cricket XI, before embarking on a career in business instead of sport and he speculated on which career would have been the more financially rewarding nowadays.

Some shareholders pressed him to show more concern with environmental worries and rethink plans for new supermarkets in sensitive parts of the country. Others took time to praise Tesco's efforts to bring commercial choice to their former homelands in Hungary, Poland and the Czech republic.

Lord MacLaurin played them all with equal sureness.