Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Retail Memo: Marc Bolland, the CEO of UK Supermarket Chain Morrisons Wins Sunday Times' 2008 Business Person of the Year'

Marc Bolland (pictured above), the chief executive of Britain's Morrisons supermarket chain, which is the UK's fourth-largest food and grocery retailing chain after number one Tesco, Wal-Mart, Inc.-owned Asda (number two), and number three Sainsbury's, is unique among the nation's top grocery chain chiefs for a number of reasons.

First, he's a Dutchman rather than a native Brit, something the chief executives of the other three chains are. Tesco's Sir Terry Leahy, Asda's Andy Bond and Sainsbury's Justin King all are proud natives of Britain. It's a real rarity for one of the CEO's of Britain's major supermarket chains (Marks & Spencer (Sir Richard Rose) and Waitrose (Mark Price) also have British CEO's, for example) to be from without the country.

The UK also honors its supermarket industry leaders. You might have noticed the title Sir in front of Tesco CEO Terry Leahy's name. Yes, given to him by the Queen for his leadership at Tesco. Then there's former Morrisons CEO and chairman Sir Ken Morrison, who just retired last year. He was knighted while leading Morrisons. Ditto Sir Richard Rose, the CEO and chairman of Marks & Spencer. Also knighted for his leadership of that venerable British retail chain. There's even a Lord in the bunch, billionaire Lord Sainsbury, who chairs Sainsbury's board but isn't involved in the day-to-day operations of the supermarket chain. Among other activities he is giving millions to Britain's fledgling space program and has a passion for politics, which he backs up with millions of dollars worth of donations to candidates he likes.

Morrison's chief executive Bolland also is unique among the CEO's of Britain's top four supermarket chains, and unique in this quality in general, in that before taking over the leadership of the supermarket chain that was founded as a market stall in 1899 by Sir Ken Morrison's father, Marc Bolland had zero previous retail experience.

Bolland came to Morrisons -- after having a number of meetings with Sir Ken Morrison who retired as chairman of the company last spring after 37 years as chief executive, in which he built the primarily family-owned grocery chain from not much more that one market stall into the UK's fourth-largest supermarket chain -- from Dutch beer giant Heineken, where he rose from starting out as a trainee fresh out of graduate school to the company's number two man, including having a seat on the beer bottler and marketer's board of directors.

The former beer company senior executive joined Morrisons shortly after Sir Ken executed his final coup, the acquisition of Britain's Safeway supermarket chain. Upon his retirement last spring, the last Morrison, Sir Ken, to perhaps ever run the family-founded supermarket chain, turned over the integration of British Safeway into Morrisons to Marc Bolland, who prior to that hadn't worked in, let alone run, a supermarket chain, particularly one that has 130,000 employees, as Morrisons' does as of the end of 2008.

Bolland rose to the challenge. Since his taking over Morrisons, the supermarket chain's customer count is today at 10 million shoppers, up by 700,000 from a year ago.

Additionally, last month Morrisons reported its strongest quarterly sales in 5 years -- an increase of a whopping 5% -- despite the severe economic recession in the UK. As a comparison, Tesco reported only a 2% sales increase for the same period.

Further, Morrisons has gained market share on number one Tesco and on number three Sainsbury's in the last year, a direct result of merchandising and operations changes Bolland has made at the chain.

The last thing making Bolland unique among the CEO's of Britain's top four supermarket chains is that this year the Sunday Times of London has awarded Morrisons' chief executive Marc Bolland its "Business Person of the Year" award for 2008.

The award is not just for the grocery sector, or the retail sector, but it's across the board for the entire UK business sector.

The chief grocer at Morrisons did good, as the Sunday Times' annual award is a coveted honor for many business people in the UK.

Sir Ken is likely proud of his choice, particularly because the only slight reservation he had about choosing Marc Bolland to lead Morrisons after his retirement was that he had no previous grocery retailing experience.

However, that didn't stop Ken Morrison from choosing March Bolland as the supermarket chain's CEO -- and it certainly hasn't stopped Bolland from taking Morrisons to a new level.

As part of its naming Marc Bolland as its UK "Business Person Of The Year" for 2008, the Sunday Times has published a detailed profile piece about him and his tenure thus far as chief executive of the Morrisons supermarket chain. The piece is written by Kate Walsh. It's a good and highly informative read, as well as a nice overview of the current state of food and grocery retailing in the UK.

You can read the profile from the Sunday Times of London, "Morrisons saviour Marc Bolland uses his loaf to boost sales: Marc Bolland, chief executive of the supermarket chain, has won our Business Person Of The Year award for reviving the ailing group," here.

We congratulate Marc Bolland on winning the honor, as well as on his tenure thus far at the helm of the supermarket chain that Sir Ken built -- Morrisons.

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