Sir Ken Morrison’s abiding talent is to know what people
want. It is a talent, which he has cultivated through observation
and experience over a lifetime in the retail trade. But there
is much more than that to the building of a great business.
While still at Bradford Grammar School, Ken worked in the
family provisions business in the school holidays. We would
call it work experience these days. What we now call gap years,
Ken spent in the Royal Air Force as a National Serviceman,
no doubt eager all the time to start real work which he did
on demobilisation in 1952. His father was seriously ill so
Ken was plunged into the management of the business and had
to learn very quickly.
By 1956 he was the Chairman and Managing Director of a small
group of shops, the embryo of what was to become a formidable
retail presence, a household name throughout the UK and the
largest public company headquartered in Yorkshire.
Morrison’s first supermarket was opened in 1961 and
the company went public in 1967. The share offer was oversubscribed
174 times. The company then set about a rapid expansion programme
including new stores, distribution services, food processing
and the complex business of handling fresh foods. In 1999
Morrisons celebrated its centenary and opened its 100th store.
A company the size of Morrisons with forecast sales of £14
billion per annum needs a large number of well-qualified and
dedicated people. The fact that Ken has succeeded in building
a united and co-ordinated team is perhaps his greatest achievement.
It is small wonder that Ken Morrison is the longest serving
chairman of a top 100 public company in the UK. It is no surprise
that he has been knighted. Except perhaps to Ken himself.
He can still be seen on the shop floor in the familiar short-sleeved
shirt, dressed for action, ready for comments from customers,
with the familiar wry smile at some of the pithy remarks one
expects in Yorkshire.