Man who built fourth largest supermarket chain from a single shop retires to his farm

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The Independent Online

Sir Ken Morrison received a heartfelt standing ovation from analysts yesterday after delivering his final results presentation as company chairman, a sight not often seen among hard-nosed City workers.

Morrisons' chief executive, Marc Bolland, paid his own tribute to Sir Ken, calling him "a unique personality".

"He is a team builder ... he knows how to get the best out of people and they really want to work hard for him," Mr Bolland said. "He has taken a store with a turnover of £50,000 and built it into a nationwide business with turnover of £13bn. These are large steps to take. Some people are able to take some of the steps but he took the whole stairs and he took it on his own, bringing people along with him on the way."

Andrew Kasoulis, retail analyst at Credit Suisse, said: "The market view on the results played second fiddle. It wasn't just about the numbers today, it was about showing gratitude for somebody who has made a fantastic contribution."

Sir Ken's father, William Morrison, started the family business with an egg and butter market stall in Bradford. His son joined him after returning from national service in 1952, and went on to be managing director from 1956 to 1997. Under his leadership, Morrisons opened a small town centre shop in 1958, the first in Bradford to offer self-service and to have prices on its products. And in 1967 it listed on the stock market – the share offer was 174 times oversubscribed as more than 80,000 investors tried to snap up shares. The company went on to become the UK's fourth largest food retailer with 375 stores nationwide serving nine million customers.

It has not all been plain sailing. Morrisons struggled following its £3.35bn takeover of Safeway four years ago, which led to many in the City calling for Sir Ken to go – although yesterday's results indicate the group is finally beginning to reap the benefits of the acquisition.

Sir Ken said the biggest changes he had seen had been the greater affluence of the nation, greater mobility and "enormous strides in packaging".

Although the 76-year-old will continue in an ambassadorial role as honorary president, he said he is looking forward to a good rest and doing some of the things he has been too busy to do over the past 55 years. "I'm a keen gardener and have a little farm which struggles to make a living and I get a lot of pleasure from that," he said. "I am looking forward to the open air."

The Yorkshireman, a father of five, known for his hands-on approach to retailing, said his greatest achievement had been "building up a team of people that want to make a fantastic business".

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