Sir Ken Morrison, the man who took his father’s small grocery chain and turned into one of the UK’s biggest retailers, has died aged 85.
Morrison’s family said he died peacefully at home in north Yorkshire after a short illness.
A proud Yorkshireman, Morrison was highly respected in the retail world for his no-nonsense approach to shopkeeping. Known for his stinging wit, he told former boss Dalton Philips, who stalled the business even as he modernised it by moving into convenience stores and the internet, that his strategy was “bullshit”.
Morrison had no time for modern fancies such as online retailing, but bought up abattoirs, vegetable packing sheds and pie-making factories as a way of keeping waste to a minimum.
From when the company floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1967, it enjoyed almost four decades of unbroken sales and profit growth.
The business was seen as a reliable, if rather dull, regional player which grew almost entirely under its own steam until Morrison did the deal of his life and bought the rival Safeway chain in 2003. It took Morrisons into the south of England and made it the UK’s fourth largest grocer.
It marked the beginning of a period of turmoil at the company, as it struggled to integrate two very different businesses, leading to a boardroom battles that finally led to Morrison’s retirement in 2008. By that point it had 375 stores, serving over 9 million customers a week.
Andrew Higginson, the current chairman of Morrisons, said: “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.
“Ken will be remembered by us all for his leadership, his passion for retailing and for his great love of Morrisons. To honour his memory in the most appropriate way we can, we will continue to develop the company that he built and loved.”
Morrison’s family said: “Sir Ken was, of course, a unique figure in the history of grocery retailing in the UK, for more than half a century being the driving force at the heart of Morrisons as it grew from two market stalls to become one of the UK’s largest retailers.
“But to us he was a greatly committed and loving family man, as inspirational and central to us in our daily lives as he was in the business. His drive and ambition, quick intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge were matched with a real curiosity in his fellow man.
“He had a gentle humour and kindness about him and he could, and would, talk with genuine interest to anyone. He showed us all the importance of aiming high but never forgetting the practicalities of life and the humanity of those we deal with.
“A proud Yorkshireman, he never forgot his roots and had a real love for, and commitment to, the people and city of Bradford. We will all miss him enormously.