To Dalton Philips’ successor then, and according to Ladbrokes at the time of writing, the favourite is Aldi’s Matthew Barnes, at 4-1.
Of course he is. It would be a brave bet, though. Barnes is in his element, an Aldi lifer still riding the crest of a wave. Everyone knows what he’s achieved at Aldi and he’s not done yet.
Yet for the sake of argument, stranger things have happened. Morrisons has more than twice the market share of Aldi. It has a similar number of stores, but far larger ones, with plenty of space, checkouts and lovely big car parks, things Barnes must daydream about on a regular basis. Morrisons would also make Barnes a very attractive offer. And maybe he fancies a clean break after splitting with co-GMD Roman Heini, who is off to Germany, as well as a monumental, and very different, challenge?
I can’t see it. It’s more likely Barnes will see an approach as further validation of the course Aldi is on and put his foot down harder.
After that comes a flood of familiar names. Ex-Tesco stalwarts David Potts and John Browett are hovering around 5-1. Former Asda man Darren Blackhurst is out at 8-1. Internal candidate Mark Harrison, at 10-1, appears a solid outside bet. Harrison has been at Morrisons for over 30 years after joining as a management trainee in 1980. He was made head of stores operation in 2003 and in June 2013 he swapped roles with group manufacturing director Martyn Fletcher (20-1) in a move intended to provide him with more all-round experience.
So is he likely to get the job? Not according to chairman Andy Higginson, who wasted no time settling into his new job as chairman by firing Philips. Higginson said the new CEO was “unlikely” to be an internal candidate. He also said the most obvious of those available was group CFO Trevor Strain (out at 25-1) but that as he was only two years into his role the timing was not right for him to step up.
Other interesting names in the frame include former Morrison’s commercial director Richard Hodgson, who joined in 2010 but was ousted in November 2012 following underwhelming results. He may fancy proving a point.
Former Thomas Cook boss Harriet Green is at 12-1. Her lack of grocery retail experience may count against her considering Morrisons is in crisis mode. Perhaps that’s why the vastly experienced Jim McCarthy has been backed down from 12-1 to 8-1, but I suspect the Poundland CEO is enjoying life far too much to endure the trials of taking over Morrisons.
At 20-1 is Judith McKenna, who left Asda for Walmart in 2012. Morrisons should be on Skype as we speak. Is there a better candidate for the job? The only reason her odds are so long is that Walmart knows this already, so recently promoted her to COO. If Morrisons isn’t already trying to persuade McKenna to swap Bentonville for Bradford, they should be.
Out at 25-1, there are more interesting but unlikely names: Asda CEO Andy Clarke, Lidl UK MD Ronny Gottschlich and Richard Pennycook. There is also Roger Whiteside, which would be an interesting bet. Since taking charge at Greggs, Whiteside has turned a bloated experimental baker into a lean mean food to go machine. He would bring decisiveness and focus where it is needed.
After that we get into fantasy land, where Philip Clarke is at 33-1 and Sir Terry Leahy pops up at 50-1. I would love to see either of those two happen. But perhaps we can’t read too much into the numbers. An enquiry about the odds for the previously unlisted Ken McMeikan saw him immediately installed at 10-1 with a maximum bet of £20, for example.
So perhaps the only sure thing about the whole process is that whoever does get the Morrisons job will walk straight into the firing line. And maybe in a month or so, Dalton Philips, with his chunky pay out and the chance to spend some quality time with his family, might consider himself well out of it.