Take a look behind the scenes at the head honchos of the UK’s fiercely competitive supermarkets.
From established giants to emerging disruptors, from billionaires to loyal ladder climbers. Take a journey through the boardrooms of the country’s leading chains and put a face to the name of those in charge of British grocery.
Get to know Britain’s biggest supermarket CEOs and leaders, where their careers started and what their key achivements and policies have been since they took the helm.
Giles Hurley, UK CEO
Became CEO: 2018
Education: Trinity College Dublin
Potted CV: Worked on McDonald’s graduate programme in Ireland before making the move to Aldi. He has since gone on to fulfil roles including area manager, trading director, buying director and MD before ascending to the top rank.
Key policies: Aldi is pressing ahead with an ambitious store opening strategy, with the discounter aiming to have 1,200 locations in the UK by the start of 2025.
Mohsin and Zuber Issa, co-owners
Education: Witton Park Academy
Potted CV: The Issa brothers are known for having started out in 2001 with a single forecourt in Bury. That site grew to be the EG Group, which now operates more than 6,000 sites in 10 countries. Twenty years later, the pair joined Asda’s board of directors having acquired the business from US-based Walmart.
Shirine Khoury-Haq, CEO
Became CEO: 2022
Education: Australian National University, Ohio State University, University of West England
Potted CV: Khoury-Haq’s career has taken her across a range of industries holding senior positions in companies as varied as IBM, McDonald’s and insurer Catlin Group. She joined the Co-op Executive in August 2019, first as CFO and CEO of Life Services.
Key policies: In September 2022, Khoury-Haq divested of the Co-op’s forecourts business, selling them to Asda. Days afterwards, she unveiled plans to plough £37m into a new-look food strategy focused on making it the biggest convenience retailer in the UK.
She will also be tasked with revitalising and growing its membership. The Co-op set an ambitious target in April this year to grow the number of active members by one million by 2028. At the time it had 4.41m members and reached the 5 million mark in 2023, an eight year high.
The key elements of her strategy include a focus on franchise, with plans to treble the number of franchisees in the next couple of years, grow its e-commerce business by building on successful tie-ups with Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Amazon, and continue to prioritise its Nisa wholesale division.
Further priorities have included driving down the society’s spiralling debt. The Co-op’s net debt sat at £123m in October 2023 compared to £33m at the end of the 2022 financial year. She will also be tasked with revitalising and growing its membership. The Co-op set an ambitious target in April this year to grow the number of active members by one million by 2028. At the time it had 4.41m members and it has already reached the 5 million mark, an eight year high.
Finally, she is aiming to become more competitive on price with convenience rivals. This year Co-op introduced Member Prices, with discounts for members on products across the store. The move was part of a wider £85m investment on lowering prices this year as it made direct comparisons between Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local.
Tarsem Dhaliwal, group CEO
Became CEO: 2018
Education: Kelsterton College (now part of Coleg Cambria)
Potted CV: Dhaliwal is an Iceland stalwart. He joined Iceland fresh from college as trainee accountant at its Deeside head office in 1985 and remained with the company in various roles until 2001, when new management saw the departure of Dhaliwal alongside other senior members of the team, including founder Malcolm Walker. Walker returned in 2005, and Dhaliwal rejoined the company as finance director, before becoming group MD in 2017.
Key policies: Under his leadership, Iceland has expanded its exlusive brands, bringing many out of home brands into its freezers. One of the first was Gregg’s, which joins brands such as TGI Friday’s, Chiquito’s and Cathedral City.
Richard Walker, executive chairman
Executive chairman since: 2023
Education: Durham University
Potted CV: Walker is a qualified chartered surveyor and put his knowledge of property into practice when he founded Bywater properties with business partner Theo Michell before joining Iceland Foods in 2012. Walker’s parents founded Iceland in 1970. He spent a year working on the shop floor before becoming an Iceland store manager and then moving to head office to become MD in 2018
Key policies: Walker committed Iceland Foods to a range of sustainability initiatives including the removal of palm oil from the company’s own label range, its pledge to eliminate plastic packaging from the Iceland own label range, the publication of the full plastic footprint of the business, and its pledge to achieve net zero carbon in its operations by 2040.
Ryan McDonnell, CEO
Became CEO: 2021
Education: University College Dublin
Potted CV: After university, McDonnell worked for a family business in construction before joining Lidl’s graduate programme in Ireland as a trainee buyer in 2000. After a period posted at Lidl’s international headquarters in Germany, followed by further training at Lidl Austria, he returned to Ireland in 2001 and set up the company’s buying and marketing functions. He was appointed Lidl Ireland chief commercial officer in 2006, chief commercial officer of Lidl GB in 2015, deputy CEO in 2021.
Key policies: Significant expansion is a key factor of McDonnell’s brief as Lidl says it is on track for 1,100 stores open in the UK by 2025.
Marks & Spencer
Stuart Machin, CEO
CEO since: 2022
Education: Harvard Business School
Potted CV: Having forgone the traditional university route, Machin took up a place in the Sainsbury’s management training programme after leaving school where, over 16 years, he moved up the ranks to ultimately become retail operations director. He spent two years each with Tesco and Asda before moving to Australia, where he worked at Coles and Target between 2008-2016. When he returned to the UK, Machin became CEO of Harveys and Bensons for Beds before taking his wealth of experience to M&S in 2018 as MD of M&S Food.
Key policies: Machin was tasked with turning Marks & Spencer’s fortunes around after years of stagnation at the brand. Coming from the food side of the business, he has been lauded for opening new foodhalls and breathing new life into its tired estate. Machin also led the retail chain to victory with a Grocer Gold Grocer of the Year win – among other accolades at the awards – in 2023.
Rami Baitiéh, CEO
Became CEO: 2023
Education: École Supérieure de Commerce de Compiègne, Université du Québec à Montréal, Warsaw School of Economics, IMD, Harvard Business School
Potted CV: After leaving the French Air Force having attained the rank of colonel, Baitiéh began his career with Carrefour Group in 1995, working in stores and serving in various roles in merchandise, IT and supply chain, in France, Romania and Poland. In February 2015, he was appointed CEO of Carrefour Taiwan, before being made CEO of Carrefour Argentina in January 2018 and then Spain the following year. In July 2020 he took the helm of Carrefour France, leading 150,000 employees across 5,800 stores, and in September 2023 was announced to be taking over as Morrisons CEO from outgoing David Potts, who had been CEO for nine years.
Hannah Gibson, CEO
CEO since: 2022
Education: University of Cambridge
Potted CV: Gibson spent a short stint at Waitrose early in her career, before heading to roles at Boston Consulting Group and then as a senior policy advisor in Downing Street. Since 2012, she has risen through the ranks at Ocado in a range of roles from head of Ocado Zoom and head of product merchandising to chief product officer for Ocado Technology.
Key policies: Gibson told The Grocer that Ocado had been poaching customers from the discounters, as the as the online supermarket posted a 10.6% increase in active customers in summer 2023. However, it continues a trend of increasing customer numbers who shop less frequently, leaving the retailer facing a conundrum Gibson is at the coalface of solving.
Simon Roberts, CEO
CEO since: 2020
Education: Purley Sixth Form College
Potted CV: Roberts began working at Marks & Spencer at the age of 16, finding himself on the management track. After more than a decade, he left for Boots, where he held a series of roles culminating in becoming MD for health and beauty, before becoming the executive vice president of the Walgreens Boots Alliance. When he first made the transition to Sainsbury’s 2017, it was as retail and operations director.
Key policies: Sainsbury’s says Roberts is leading its plan to put food back at the heart of the business. He launched its Plan for Better, which includes a commitment to become net zero across its operations by 2035.
Ken Murphy, group CEO
Became CEO: 2020
Education: University College Cork, Harvard Business School
Potted CV: Murphy began his career with supplier Proctor & Gamble. He soon moved into retail, spending more than 20 years with the Walgreens Boots Alliance in a number of senior management roles across the business including executive vice president, chief commercial officer and president of global brands.
Jason Tarry, outgoing UK CEO
CEO since: 2018
Education: Staffordshire University
Potted CV: Tarry joined Tesco’s finance department on a graduate recruitment programme 1990. He went on to hold several positions in both food and non-food divisions, including impulse and bakery category director, non-food sourcing director and clothing category director. Tarry has worked for Tesco for more than 33 years, including six as UK CEO having become the right-hand man of former boss Dave Lewis, and played a major role in its turnaround following its 2014 financial scandal.
Key policies: Tarry was known for leading Tesco’s sweeping range review Project Reset, as well as working to rebuild supplier relationships. He oversaw the ramping up of Tesco’s Clubcard Prices, becoming the first of the big four to offer loyalty pricing strategy, and its Aldi Price Match.
Matthew Barnes, incoming UK CEO
Becoming CEO: 2024
Education: Liverpool University
Potted CV: Barnes joined Aldi on its graduate scheme straight from university. He worked his way up to become the discounter’s first UK & Ireland CEO in 2015, a role he held for three years before joining the executive board of the its parent company, Aldi Süd.
He has overseen the transformation of Aldi in the UK and is widely credited with reinventing the discounter format, which has been the trigger for seismic changes in the pecking order and structure of supermarkets across the UK.
Barnes resigned from his role with Aldi early in 2023, leading to speculation he could replace Morrisons’ David Potts. Howeverm it was confirmed in October 2023 that he was heading for the top job at Tesco at the beginning of the next financial year.
John Lewis & Waitrose
Sharon White, chair
Chair since: 2019
Education: University of Cambridge, University College London
Potted CV: White joined John Lewis from communications regulator Ofcom, where she served as CEO. Before working for Ofcom, she worked in the Treasury, responsible for overseeing public finances, and held board level positions at the Ministry of Justice and the Department for International Development. She also worked as an adviser at the prime minister’s policy unit and in Washington DC as a senior economist at the World Bank.
Key policies: In the midst of tough years for department stores, White has implemented a turnaround plan while reiterating her commitment to shoring up the retailer’s partnership model. However, in order to do that, she targeted £900m of efficiencies by 2026, up from £300m.
Another key area has been a plan to transition the partnership to ensure 40% of its profits come from outside of retail, significantly through building up to 10,000 buy to let houses. She also appointed JLP’s first ever CEO Nish Kankiwala, a seasoned private equity operator from his time as Hovis CEO and Burger King president.
Nish Kankiwala, CEO
CEO since: 2023
Education: University College London
Potted CV: Kankiwala has worked for some of the country’s biggest brand names and suppliers. The first of which was multinational Unilever, which was followed by PepsiCo and Burger King, before he took the reins as CEO of Hovis. While there, he joined the JLP board as a non-executive director before becoming its first CEO in March 2023.