Blackfriar: Morrisons' Trevor Strain will be a very successful replacement for David Potts
Morrisons’ top team is confident, assured but not scared to have a laugh - always an important sign that this is a happy team who like each other and operate well together.
At a press conference last year both chief executive David Potts and heir apparent Trevor Strain got the giggles.
On the surface neither are prone to such fripperies as they are both serious, thoughtful, intelligent and highly experienced operators, but it was good to see that every now and then, they let their guard down.
In this instance, neither could stop giggling for a minute or two before the corporate masks were put back on.
Mr Potts has been credited with turning Morrisons around, but he would have struggled without the wise counsel of Mr Strain and the rest of the top team he has brought into Morrisons.
Mr Potts was parachuted in four years ago to sort out the company. A Tesco veteran, he rapidly got to work at a time when Morrisons had lost its way.
He took the helm in March 2015, replacing Dalton Philips, who was ousted in January that year after sliding profits and sales.
At the group’s AGM in 2014, Mr Philips was submitted to a humiliating dressing-down in front of shareholders by former chairman Sir Ken Morrison.
At the time, Sir Ken told the group’s AGM in Bradford: “The results were described by the chairman and chief executive as ‘disappointing’. I personally thought they were disastrous.
“When I left work and started working as a hobby, I chose to raise cattle. I have something like 1,000 bullocks and, having listened to your presentation, Dalton, you’ve got a lot more bulls**t than me.”
Mr Potts has been a very different kettle of fish. One of his first moves was to quietly remove the controversial misting machines that sprayed vegetables with a theatrical mist.
While misting machines might appeal to upmarket Waitrose shoppers, Mr Potts knew that Morrisons’ customers just want quality food and drink at low prices.
Unlike his predecessor, Mr Potts had a very good relationship with Sir Ken.
Before his sad death in 2017, Sir Ken liked to have fish and chips with the chief executive of the day in the staff canteen on Fridays.
He thoroughly approved of the appointment of David Potts as CEO in 2015.
Following Sir Ken’s death, Mr Potts told The Yorkshire Post: “Having a fish and chip lunch with him was a pleasure. I always used to drink tea with him because I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I wasn’t a tea drinker.”
Over the past 25 years, I’ve met dozens of supermarket top teams. Some get ideas above their station and start wearing posh suits and adopt strange, indecipherable Americanisms. You haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about and you suspect that they don’t either.
One of my top tips for spotting a chief exec who has got above themselves is when they start pronouncing strategy as “stra-da-gee”. I’ve seen countless bosses adopt this strange language, usually a year or so before they get axed.
There is none of that fancy pants language or attitude at Morrisons.
The board are carefully working out a succession strategy (with a t in the middle) to replace Mr Potts and Mr Strain is expected to be a very successful replacement for Mr Potts when the latter decides to step down.
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