It’s more than 30 years since Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy joined the UK retail giant – and longer still since he scrubbed floors at its Wandsworth store in his school holidays.
Now, on the day that he announced his long-anticipated retirement in March next year, just-food looks back at the career of a man described by his chairman as “one of the leading businessmen of his generation”.
1979: Terry Leahy joins Tesco as a marketing executive, having originally been passed over for in favour of a stronger candidate. Meanwhile, Tesco’s annual sales pass GBP1bn for the first time.
1982: Tesco revenues pass GBP2bn for the year.
1992: Leahy is appointed to the Tesco board as reward for his progressive, expansionist philosophy. The classic “Every Little Helps” slogan is launched, along with the company’s Computers for Schools initiative.
1994: The first Tesco Express opens
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1995: Tesco becomes the UK’s biggest retailer, and launches its Clubcard loyalty reward scheme.
1997: Terry Leahy becomes CEO on the retirement of his mentor, Lord MacLaurin. The choice reflects MacLaurin’s desire to find a successor to lead the company’s international expansion and aggressive targeting of increased market share.
1997 onwards: True to his word, Leahy directs Tesco’s overseas expansion, entering Ireland, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Turkey, Japan and China over the next seven years.
2000: Tesco.com is launched
2001: Tesco becomes the leading organic retailer in the UK
2002: Becomes Sir Terry Leahy on the award of a knighthood, and also gains the freedom of the city of Liverpool, his birthplace.
2004: Tesco enters China
2005: Annual profits reach GBP2bn for the first time, prompting a backlash. Sir Terry stoutly defends Tesco against accusations that it has become “too big”.
2007: Tesco opens Fresh & Easy in the United States
2008: Tesco aquires 36 hypermarkets in South Korea from Homever
April 2010: Underlying pre-tax profits reach GBP3.34bn.
8 June 2010: Sir Terry announces his retirement from next March, to be replaced by fellow company veteran Philip Clarke.
The future: Analysts are notoriously uneasy about boardroom changes at successful companies but Clarke’s appointment has so far been met with cautious optimism.
Retail experts point to his strong international experience – he currently runs Tesco’s international operations in Asia and Europe – and lengthy stint with the company, minimising the risk of sudden strategic change.
Another positive is the clear communication of the company’s succession plan and timeframe – but many will still wait with bated breath to hear Clarke’s strategic vision for the future of one of the greatest retail success stories of the last 25 years.