Sir Ken Morrison, who was instrumental in growing supermarket Morrisons into one of
the UK’s largest retailers, has died aged 85 following a short illness.
The man who grew a national supermarket chain from two market stalls was at the helm of the company for over 50 years, until 2008, his last years somewhat clouded by the controversial acquisition of Morrisons’ rival Safeway.
In a statement, Morrisons said: “To us he was a greatly committed and loving family man, as inspirational and central to us in our daily lives as he was in the business. His drive and ambition, quick intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge were matched with a real curiosity in his fellow man.” The statement went on:
He showed us all the importance of aiming high but never forgetting the practicalities of life and the humanity of those we deal with.”
These words encapsulate the essence of great retailing, great business and great Customer Experience. Ken Morrison was an innovator – for example he built Morrisons on a model of vertical integration, directly controlling many of its food suppliers, and developed the Market Street concept of retail theatre combined with expertise directly available to the consumer.
It is as a “people person” though, that Sir Ken will be remembered by those who worked with him. If the Safeway acquisition was his biggest failure, it was perhaps because Safeway diluted the Morrisons culture, something the management, as they struggled to make the merger work on a practical level, could not easily control.
Last week Morrisons’ competitor Tesco announced its merger with Booker Group – a deal which I struggle to comprehend as anything likely to benefit the consumer, despite Tesco’s claims to the contrary. It is only a few months since Tesco divested itself of two fine businesses, Dobbies garden centres and Giraffe restaurants, that had not noticeably benefited from its ownership. Now Tesco claims that its takeover of cash-and-carry wholesaler Booker will benefit suppliers, retailers (Booker owns the Londis, Budgens and Premier brands and supplies 120,000 independent retailers in the UK) and customers.
We shall see.
I just wonder whether there is anybody at the top of Tesco about whom the following could be said:
He understands his customers very well and the thing you really notice about Morrisons stores is that they are in tune with their customers.”
Incidentally, those words, describing Sir Ken, were spoken by Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco. They sure don’t make ’em like that any more.
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