Name: John Irish
Was: Chairman for Spar UK
Now: Retired
Years in grocery: 40

Career background: “After LSE and the army, I joined Marks & Spencer as a management trainee in 1954. I was there for 11 years in M&S stores and head office - both in buying and sales development roles. I then worked for five years in the now defunct David Greig before joining Spar in 1971. I became assistant MD in 1973, MD in 1981, and then chairman in 1983 until I retired in 1994.”

What was your biggest achievement? “Undoubtedly, the introduction and exploitation of convenience trading in the UK - with the founding of Eight Till Late in 1981. Also, the harnessing of technology to independent retailing. I was also pleased to receive the Independent Grocer of the Year Gold Award in 1987. But I am especially proud of my CBE in 1989.”

What have you been up to since? “After my retirement from Spar, I had eight non-executive roles as chairman or director of various companies. Those roles finished in 2002, so I have been enjoying my very large family, numerous parties and travel.”

What do you miss about grocery? “The cut and thrust and the comradeship among the leading names, whether retailers, wholesalers or suppliers. We fought like cat and dog during the day, and we partied like mad during the night!”

What do you think of the industry now? “The industry is more mature and perhaps somewhat more homogeneous than when I left. I am pleased at the resilience of Spar. Tesco is now having a hiccup, after the brilliant leadership of Ian MacLaurin and Terry Leahy. Asda, apart from Netto, has stagnated. Convenience has been a godsend for The Co-op. Waitrose has been fantastic, albeit from a relatively small base. But none of it seems as much fun!”