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Leaders who stand out...

Gordon Boyle

I have always been interested to listen to leaders who have stood out during their time when they lead successful companies. As someone who has been involved in the food and drinks industry for most of my life, I am always interested when leaders in the industry share their thoughts.

Recently, Lord MacLaurin, the former boss of Tesco supermarkets, took part in an interview and badmouthed his successor Sir Terry Leahy. Tesco is the number one retailer in the UK with profits of £1.7 billion last year.

It is worth noting that Lord MacLaurin personally chose Sir Terry Leahy as his successor having led Tesco to the number one food retailer in the UK. When asked what his most important act was, he responded saying appointing the right successor, Terry Leahy.

Terry Leahy during his time as the boss quadrupled Tesco sales, profits and the share price and introduced the most successful loyalty card scheme in the UK. He was revered as a great leader but in 2007 decided to take Tesco into the US market which became a disastrous venture. Under the name Fresh & Easy with the message it’s fresh, healthy and inexpensive it failed to relate with the US consumers.

The next boss was the same as his predecessors, a long-time Tesco employee who had risen to the top. Philip Clarke had to deal with many issues including the closure of the US business. The company was in big trouble and had to undo some of the expansion that had happened under Terry Leahy. In the end, an accounting scandal forced Clarke to leave at the same time he should have been having a party to celebrate 40 years in the company.

Clarke’s successor, David Lewis, was not a Tesco man and was recruited from Unilever. He immediately got to work to tidy up the mess, re-engineer the supply chain and focus on cheaper own brands to combat the growth of discount retailers. As a result of the new strategy, profits came roaring back as they focused on putting the customer first.

Lewis, who has been with Tesco since 2014, has recently resigned and in the summer of next year Ken Murphy, a Boots veteran who until recently was the chief commercial officer of its US parent, Walgreens Boots Alliance, will take over.

Today Tesco is celebrating 100 years in business and is smaller than it was back in 2011 when profits were £3.8 billion. Since 2014, some 10,000 roles have been eliminated and around half of the people in the redundant roles have been redeployed.

The Tesco empire is being reshaped and evolving into a business that is fit for the future. Lewis believes food retailers have to use new technology responsibly and only introduce technology that customers value and like. One example of using technology is their focus on weather forecasting. There are 14 regions around the UK where the weather is forecast to make sure the right amount of produce is available for the customer.

Finally, back to the 82-year-old Lord MacLaurin, it would be best if he were to shut up. In business and politics that last thing we need is bitter old men sniping at their successors from the comfort of their fireside armchair.

Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at

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