Sir Ken Morrison died today aged 85, the Yorkshireman who took his father’s small Bradford-based grocery chain with an annual turnover of £50,000 and turned it into the UK’s fourth biggest supermarket worth £13bn (£16.4bn).
“I’m going to have a rest,” he said when he announced his decision to retire as chairman of the supermarket chain in 2008 after more than 50 years.
Back then, Morrisons had 375 stores across the country, serving over 9m customers a week.
Today the supermarket boasts over 500 UK stores.
1. Staying true to his Yorkshire roots
Sir Ken was just 18-years-old when he left school and sold fresh produce from his father’s small butter and eggs market stall in Bradford.
His experience as a teenager inspired some of his most innovative business ideas.
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In the 1980s, Morrisons launched its Market Street concept, boasting in-store fishmongers, butchers and bakers reminiscent of the stalls Sir Ken was surrounded by growing up.
He also focused on expanding the Morrison’s franchise at home in the UK, rather than looking to branch out overseas.
In 1971, the company announced the location of its new corporate headquarters in Bradford, west Yorkshire, where the first ever Morrisons supermarket opened its doors ten years earlier.
After Morrison’s was listed as a public company in 1967, stores soon cropped up in Lancashire, London, Wales and Scotland, boosting profits.
Rising sales saw the supermarket join the FTSE 100 for the first time in April 2001.
Sir Ken put his success down to the supermarket’s broad emphasis on “honest good value” produce, appealing to customers from different UK regions and across wealth brackets.
“Southern shoppers like to think they are sophisticated, don’t they? But they’re not. There’s not so much difference down there. They say poor people need a bargain. Wealthy people appreciate one,” he once said.
2. Striking big deals
Morrison’s deal with Safeway, the US supermarket chain, was the biggest retail conversion exercise ever undertaken in the UK.
The £3bn acquisition of 479 Safeway stores in 2005 resulted in the creation of over 11,000 jobs, and it was then that Morrison’s was fast-tracked into the top five largest grocers in the country.
Although a string of profit warnings followed shortly after, the supermarket did manage to recover by 2006.
Sir Ken was known for his endless store visits and attention to detail.
“He pretty much invented the phrase ‘retail is detail’,” said Allan Leighton, the former chief executive of Asda, commenting on Sir Ken’s retirement in 2008.
The Yorkshireman disliked traditional corporate processes and so rather than handing over control to others, he took hold of the reins himself as much as possible, refusing to appoint independent directors.
“If you don’t know how to run your own business, it’s time to give up, isn’t it?” he said in 2003.
4.Legacy of success
After Sir Ken retired, the business continued to evolve.
From the acquisition of a banana-ripening factory in Lincolnshire in 2013 to the launch of an online food delivery service in January 2014, Sir Ken built a strong foundation on which the company could grow.
“I know that I speak for the whole company when I say how profoundly sad we were to hear of Sir Ken’s death. He was an inspirational leader and the driving force behind Morrisons for over half a century. Although he retired several years ago, his legacy is evident every day and in every aspect of our business,” said Andrew Higginson, the current chairman of Morrisons in a statement issued earlier today.
Sir Ken was awarded a CBE in 1990 and knighted in the millennium New Year Honours list for his services to the food retailing industry.