THE MORRISON family yesterday welcomed the decision by the supermarket’s chairman to step down from his role next year.
Sir Ken Morrison and his nephew, former Morrisons director Chris Blundell, spoke in favour of appointing an external executive chairman when Sir Ian Gibson steps down at the 2015 Annual General Meeting.
Sir Ian Gibson, who was appointed in 2008, announced his decision yesterday.
The news comes a few weeks after Morrisons’ former property director Roger Owen compared the Bradford-based grocer to “a supertanker heading towards an iceberg” and claimed Sir Ian must take the ultimate blame for the decline in fortunes.
In an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Post in April, Mr Owen, nicknamed the Iceman because of his challenging corporate style, said: “He should not be putting himself forward for re-election. If he does put himself forward, I hope sincerely that he is going to be voted off the board.”
In a statement issued yesterday morning ahead of the grocer’s AGM, Sir Ian said: “This term will take me into my eighth year on Wm Morrisons Board, and this announcement gives the Board time to conduct an orderly search for a new chairman and ensure a smooth transition.”
Speaking at yesterday’s AGM at Morrisons’ head office, Mr Blundell said: “I don’t think anyone on the current board could take on that role. I would be tempted to appoint an executive chairman.”
Sir Ken echoed his nephew’s sentiment and reiterated his view that there were too many non-executive directors on the board.
Morrisons is attempting to fight back against the discounters by slashing prices permanently after it slumped to a £176m loss in the year to February 2.
Sir Ian and chief executive Dalton Philips apologised to shareholders for “disappointing” results and said it was now focusing on its core supermarket business along with its new online offer and convenience store format.
Sir Ian said that had been a “mistake” to buy 10 stores along with an online business from Kiddiecare, a baby goods retailer it is now looking to sell.
Sir Ken subjected Mr Philips to a humiliating public dressing down in front of shareholders.
He returned to the meeting after missing last year’s event for the first time in more than 50 years following knee surgery.
His tirade about the lack of leadership and ‘disastrous’ financial results was supported Mr Blundell, who told shareholders: “I think we’re in a rescue situation here and it needs urgent action. Things need to be done very quickly. We are losing our reputation.”
Sir Ian replied by saying Morrisons was a ‘sound’ business that continues to grow.
Meanwhile, management faced angry questions from shareholders on everything from the poor results to lack of proper parking space.
Mr Philips has said the industry is facing the biggest structural shift since the advent of supermarkets in the 1950s, with shoppers turning to discounters Aldi and Lidl.
He plans to invest £1bn in price cuts over three years.
He belatedly launched an online operation this year and has expanded Morrisons’ presence in the burgeoning convenience sector and moved to update antiquated IT systems.
But it has yet to lift like-for-like sales, which tumbled to a 7.1 per cent decline in the group’s latest quarterly trading update.
Mr Philips has previously made stark comments about the need to drag the supermarket into the 21st century, though he has refrained from criticising his predecessors.
Last year he said its lack of an online presence meant it was losing £500m a year in sales to rivals.
He said that when he took over in 2010 parts of the business had been two decades behind rivals, with cash still being counted manually in stores at the end of each working day.
It was a 21st century business run on “infrastructure firmly stuck in the 20th century” with the antiquated systems making it difficult to plan promotions such as multi-buy offers, he said.
Yesterday, he set out the areas of the business he planned to invest in. He added: “We are very clear on what we have to do to get the company performing better. We are a value led grocer, British born and bred, dedicated to quality fresh foods and low prices every day.”