Outlook: Tesco's magic

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Outlook: Tesco's magic

IT IS NOT often that one of Britain's leading industrialists is persuaded to pen his business autobiography - rarer still that it turns out to be of any interest or long term import. All of which makes Ian MacLaurin's "Tiger by the Tail - from Tesco to Test Cricket" (published later this week by Macmillan), required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the world of business.

Lord MacLaurin has managed to produce a fascinating book, filled with insights into one of the great British business success stories of the last twenty years - a book which is both instructive and highly entertaining at the same time.

Lord MacLaurin's career has a fairy tale quality to it. As a young man he starts in the Epson branch warehouse as Tesco's first ever management trainee, eventually rising, some thirty five years later, to become chairman of what by then had become one of Europe's leading retailers. In no small measure that success is down to Lord MacLaurin, and the team of friends and contemporaries he accumulated around him in his passage to the top.

From the early swashbuckling days under Jack "Slasher" Cohen, through the boardroom coup which ended Green Shield stamps and started Operation Checkout, to the eventual launch of Tesco's pioneering loyalty card - the initiative that was finally to give Tesco's market leadership over Sainsbury's - Lord MacLaurin plots a compelling tale of vision, determination and switched on leadership. So in the end what's the lesson?

"Keep as close to your customers and your staff as you can", says Lord MacLaurin, "and they will give you all the information you need about how to run a successful company". For two once great retailers that seem in recent years rather to have lost the plot - Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's - never a truer word was spoken.

Even Tesco's and Lord MacLaurin have had their wobbles. In the early 1990s, profits growth ground to a halt and Lord MacLaurin was famously urged to get off the golf course and back into the board room. He did, and survived.

However, in these two cases the rot may run deeper. "They are excellent retail brands and both companies will come again", says Lord MacLaurin. "But it may take some time". As for Sainsbury's; "No, they will never catch Tesco's again - not unless Tesco does something very wrong".

Brussels in charge of any British takeover EdF attempts, New Labour seems to be powerless to do anything.