This morning Morrisons ended a great deal of speculation by confirming that Andrew Higginson, former Tesco finance director, was to be hired as chairman in 2015. With Morrisons enduring tough times of late, Sir Ian Gibson duly announced he would not be fighting for re-election as the company’s chairman. Britain’s fourth biggest supermarket has been losing market share and has been forced to make massive cuts to prices and staff recently in an effort to get their numbers right and customers back on side.
They are scrambling to catch up with fellow traditional big guns such as Tesco, ASDA and Sainsbury’s whilst they also desperately need to keep up with the progress of discount stores like Lidl and Aldi. With experience in Poundland, Higginson might be the man to help Morrisons compete with these budget stores. Higginson turned his back on Tesco in 2012 after being snubbed for the chief executive job in favour of Philip Clarke – who was just last week replaced by Dave Lewis. With Tesco’s recent bad fortune, they may regret their decision and cast an envious eye on the one that got away; but we take a look at who Morrisons may lament having missed out on in a few years time:
Archie Norman – ‘The Turnaround King’
It’s wasn’t the first time Archie Norman had been linked with a move to Morrisons. The current chairman of ITV was thought to be on the shortlist way back in 2005 when the relationship between Sir Ken Morrison and Sir David Jones became so heated that they were known to break out into fiery boardroom rows. The ship sailed for Norman on that occasion but it could be back for a second opportunity. The Cambridge graduate, formerly MP of Tunbridge Wells, is said to have been the only applicant for the chief executive position at the near-bankrupt Asda in 1991. He is largely credited with transforming it into the UK’s second-largest supermarket before the massive sale to Wal-Mart in 2009 for over £6bn in 1999. Not a bad CV at all but deep-rooted connections to Asda could make this a controversial choice.
Allan Leighton – ‘The Tough Guy’
But Norman didn’t act alone. His Asda partner-in-crime, Allan Leighton, is another candidate for the Morrisons hot-seat. Previously the Asda CEO and non-executive chairman of the Royal Mail, the 61 year-old is now the CEO of Danish jewellery company Pandora. Leighton was greatly praised for his role in the Asda resurrection; his modest style incorporating interaction with staff at all levels is said to have been ideally suited to a supermarket role, perhaps making him the stand-out contender for Morrisons. Leighton is certainly not one to shirk a challenge either – he has consistently expressed a desire to take on numerous roles at once and has had to face down the threat of a national postal strike and even convince BSkyB shareholders that Rupert Murdoch’s son, a 30 year-old James, was the right man for the chief executive job. It’s fair to say Morrisons wouldn’t phase him.
John Gildersleeve – ‘The Veteran’
Gildersleeve is another name with massive experience in the supermarket industry. He is currently the chairman of British Land but spent 20 years as a director at Tesco having climbed the ranks after joining as a 19 year-old. He called a day on his time at Tesco in 2004 but it was not to enjoy an early retirement. He became chairman of New Look in 2009, where it is fair to say an abandoned IPO in 2010 was a hefty bump in the road of an otherwise smooth career. He has recovered well through remaining at British Land and keeping his role as deputy chairman of the Carphone Warehouse, but major supermarkets is where Gildersleeve has the bulk of his experience and that will work in his favour if he is to fancy the job at Morrisons.
John McAdam – ‘The Dark Horse’
McAdam is the chairman of Rentokil Initial Plc, a major British business services group. He took over from fired Doug Flynn on the credentials that he turned around Imperial Chemical Industries, the parent company of Dulux paints, before the sale of the company for £8bn in 2008. McAdam is renowned for wanting his own people, having taken a trio of ICI managers with him to Rentokil, so Morrisons may have to accept his arrival will herald an influx of former friends – but if this ignites a turnaround then it will certainly be a worthy investment. McAdam perhaps doesn’t have quite as much supermarket experience as his rivals, but he has held a non-executive director position at Sainsbury’s since 2005 meaning he would be no newbie when it comes to the kind of role up for grabs at Morrisons.
So that’s a rundown of experienced pros who may have held the key to a turnaround in Morrisons’ fortunes. Higginson was undoubtedly another top candidate, but if he fails to spark necessary growth, there will certainly be a pang of regret that one of this bunch wasn’t given the chance.