Mr Clarke was the keynote speaker at the JCI (Junior Chamber International) UK national conference, which has attracted delegates from as far afield as the US. During his speech, Mr Clarke spoke about his passionate concerns about the levels of UK youth unemployment, and how a more robust supply chain had emerged following the horsemeat scandal which had acted as a “cold shower” for everybody in his sector.
He told the audience of around 200 young business leaders that he “hadn’t given enough time to his education”. He left school at 16, and initially worked at a service station, mopping floors and cleaning tables. He told the audience at Oulton Hall, near Leeds: “It taught me a lot about the importance of all jobs in all walks of life.”
Mr Clarke began his career in retail in Fine Fare in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and with help from a series of mentors, he rose through the ranks at Bradford-based Morrisons and Asda. In May 2010, he became president and CEO of Leeds-based Asda.
He told the audience: “Mentors and coaches, in any industry, will have a huge impact on the people you work with..I’m imploring business leaders to get into schools and talk to those GCSE students who should be studying harder than I did.”
In response to a question from the audience about the horse meat scandal, which affected many retailers, Mr Clarke stressed that he had avoided a knee jerk reaction, until he had the chance to understand the scale of the challenge.
“We now have an even more robust process for the supply chain,’’ he said.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post after giving his presentation, Mr Clarke said: “When you’re able to talk to somebody outside of your organisation for advice, sometimes they give you a clearer level of thinking about a job role or a particular issue in your organisation. You need to find somebody you’ve got natural chemistry with, who is able to challenge you as well as simply respond to your questions.”