IT will take three to five years to restore supermarket chain Morrisons “to full health”, according to the company’s new chairman.
Andy Higginson said there would be “no sacred cows” as he and the incoming chief executive review the Morrisons business, which has struggled to cope with competition from discount rivals.
Mr Higginson made the comments in an interview with The Sunday Times, in which he also confirmed that he has a shortlist of five contenders to succeed the departing chief executive, Dalton Philips.
Bradford-based Morrisons announced the departure of Mr Philips earlier this month, alongside the news that it will close 10 loss-making stores this year with the loss of 409 jobs. Mr Higginson said that the bulk of the job cuts will be in the North. Analysts said more closures are likely after the chain admitted that it has more than 10 loss-making stores.
In the interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Higginson said that the most important thing was to restore trading in Morrisons’ big supermarkets,
He said: “To be frank, this isn’t an issue of strategy, it’s about execution and delivering...It’s about the hard work of the team, trying to encourage more customers to come to your stores..it’s as old as the hills really - nothing magical.”
He also suggested that Morrisons would continue to own farms and abattoirs.
Earlier this month, following the news of Mr Philips’ exit and the departure of retiring chairman Sir Ian Gibson, the former Morrisons property director Roger Owen told The Yorkshire Post that the non-executive directors had demonstrated “they are not capable of running a school tuck shop”.
At the time, Mr Owen called for a clearout of the board, which he said had presided over “a spiral of decline”. He had previously said that Morrisons was a “supertanker heading towards an iceberg”.
However, after reading Mr Higginson’s latest comments, Mr Owen said: “I feel significantly more positive, It’s very encouraging that (Andy Higginson) has decided to focus on the core business which is where they have lost significant ground. I have gone on the record as saying that what Morrisons needs is a proper retailer.”
Mr Owen highlighted the fact that many successful senior figures in retailing, such as Asda’s CEO Andy Clarke, had started their careers on the shop floor “which gives them a very good appreciation of what happens in the store”.
Earlier this month, Morrisons said it would look outside the company for a leader to return it to growth.
Its shares rose on hopes that a new boss could reverse its fortunes, but analysts warned that there is a mountain to climb.
Morrisons has been particularly hard hit because discounters are strong in its northern heartlands. It also moved into convenience stores and online shopping later than many of its rivals.
Mr Philips dramatically changed tack to take on the discounters last March, announcing plans to slash prices.
Many analysts believe Mr Higginson, who bought £500,000 worth of Morrisons shares earlier this month, could find a new chief executive from among his former Tesco colleagues.
Earlier this month, bookmaker Ladbrokes listed former Tesco directors David Potts and John Browett as being among the possible replacements for Mr Philips.
A Morrisons spokesman declined to comment on a report in the Mail on Sunday, which said that Mr Potts is in pole position to take on the CEO’s role.