In a battered shoe box in one of my mother’s wardrobes there’s a 50-year-old photograph of me, aged four, standing next to a large hamper sent to my father for Christmas by his then employer, Garfield Weston. I’m reading a copy of The Grocer.
At the time my father was an area manager for Westons, which became Burtons Biscuits. Showing his entrepreneurial streak, and his love of grocery, he went on to set up his own small wholesale business.
“I worry that an industry that has built a reputation for stability is becoming like Premiership football”
So The Grocer was as present in my childhood as it has been in my 17 years with Waitrose. And there’s a good reason for the magazine’s longevity. The Grocer is informative, impartial and a champion for all that is positive in our industry. It plays a vital role in shaping opinion and deserves the right to do so because of the quality and consistency of its execution.
It is worth noting The Grocer has had just three editors (and one owner) over the past 27 years. That chimes with my own business where there have been just three MDs in 23 years. With news of more senior exec hirings and firings this week (within both Nisa and Morrisons), one wonders if we prize experience, culture and consistency in the way we once did.
If the City gives a new CEO, say, three years to prove themselves, is there time to remould and reshape a team, or do you have to fire those from the past and bring in your own new team in search of quick success? Is it better for the shepherd to adapt to the flock or vice versa? Who is serving who?
I worry that an industry with a reputation for stability is becoming like Premiership football management, where chopping and changing to secure immediate progress is commonplace. What does that mentality give a new manager if they think they’ve only got three years to get it right?
I still remember the day my previous chairman invited me to become marketing director at Waitrose. I almost fell off my chair. I had only ever worked in retail operations at John Lewis. “Why me?” I asked. He explained he could either bring someone in with proven marketing skills who wouldn’t understand our culture and ways of working; or choose someone internally who understood those things and then train them as a marketeer.
That’s why I’ve always valued evolution over revolution - which, incidentally, rarely works!
Mark Price, Waitrose MD, deputy chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, and this week’s guest editor