The superstars of the supermarket chains
Market Leaders Pick Their Market Leader
Wednesday 26 May 1999
I would pick Ken Morrison as the food retailer I most admire. His business is the only regional supermarket chain to survive a process of concentration which swept the others from the board. Morrisons is a powerful force in the North, and proved it can take the fight to bigger competitors in the UK.
He has a single-minded focus on what his customers want, and delivers it with clarity and simplicity. The business has a low-cost base, with a minimalist head office and associated corporate overhead. The style is unpretentious and healthily sceptical of trendy ideas, especially those peddled by consultants. He has also managed to be innovative. By driving strong sales volumes through his stores and keeping his cost base low, Ken increased Morrison's net margin to 6.4 per cent, highest in the sector. Delivering consistently good value to customers while making an above- average return for shareholders is the hallmark of a first-class professional grocer.
D L Felwick
In the last decade I would have to single out Ian MacLaurin for reading the opportunities best and for powering Tesco to market leadership on the back of an intensive development programme and a customer-led strategy. Also, the Asda team of Archie Norman and Allan Leighton deserve recognition for developing Asda by returning it to its roots on price, and for building a powerful trading format. I have great respect for Ken Morrison and his team for the way they have consistently grown their business.
I nominate Malcolm Walker of Iceland and David Simons of Somerfieldfor taking the business forward in exciting ways. They are working in a market which includes massive rival concerns which means they're fighting to improve the business against all odds. They deserve immense praise.
To find my ideal market leader I'd have to look back in history. I admire Albert Gubay who started Quicksave. He was a visionary, the first discount shopkeeper who brought in low prices and enjoyed success. Another pioneer was Cliff Dunn who ran the Savemore stores in Hull with great success. His shops were the forerunners of self-service in big stores. Ian MacLaurin, former chairman of Tesco, took a faltering business and revitalised it. And cannily he made sure of the succession by selecting Terry Leahy to take over. Finally, I should mention Allan Leighton of Asda. He has copied successful aspects of successful operations and put them together to make a viable business of his own. My formula for success in the business is simple - define what you want to do and do it.
Cooperative Wholesale Society
First there is John Toll who is about 68 and still runs a supermarket in Shropshire called Saverite. He used to be the operations director at Gateway. This impressive figure is still running stores because he enjoys it. Second, I nominate Terry Leahy at Tesco who inherited a very strong brand from MacLaurin and has managed to keep the organisation going from strength to strength. Leahy has shown strategic vision and thought about the customer. It's so easy to just sit in your office with a vacuum between you and the consumer but Tesco have overcome this difficulty. It is a customer-oriented business and if you lose sight of that, you're lost.
Director, Food and home
Marks & Spencer
There have been some serious heavyweights, such as Lord Sainsbury and Ian MacLaurin. John Sainsbury modernised food retail. Ian MacLaurin turned Tesco from a family pile 'em high business to what it is today - it leads the industry and focuses on the customer. Terry Leahy is doing a fantastic job, following MacLaurin by putting the emphasis on the customer.
Former Chairman of Tesco
Someone who has done an extremely good job is Allan Leighton of Asda. He and Archie Newman make an impressive team. Asda has a good reputation and the City thinks Allan and Asda are good things. Terry Leahy has done a very good job since the old guard moved. Terry and Allan are dedicated retailers focused on the customer and their staff - elements essential to the success of retail operation.
The real giants of the food retail industry were John Sainsbury and Ian MacLaurin. They built their superstores into world-class industries and they deserve credit for the way the shops are running. They were giants. The problem with the people at the helm at the moment is that none has been there for any extended time. Terry Leahy is bound to be the next big star.
At the forefront is Allan Leighton of Asda who brought his own brand of charisma into food retail. He has his only particular style of management which obviously works and it will be interesting to see how he fits it into this new merger. I've the sneaking suspicion he'll end up as the head of a multinational company. Then there's Ian MacLaurin whose presence can still be felt within the industry. He has inspiring management technique. And obviously, he's a good judge of his staff; I thoroughly admire the way he brought Terry Leahy on.
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