Sir Ken Morrison this week drew to a close his extraordinary 56-year career at the retailer he transformed from his father's three market stalls in Bradford to the UK's fourth-biggest supermarket.
His parting gift was a two-year £1bn share buyback scheme to Morrisons' shareholders, a move that boosts the relative stake of shareholders and increases dividend payments.
Sir Ken was also able to announce bumper results, with a 65.8% rise in full-year pre-tax profit to £612m on sales up 6% to £13bn. Like-for-like sales for the year to 3 February rose 4.6% excluding fuel.
The Yorkshireman, who never lost his liking for visiting stores and speaking to customers, has accepted an ambassadorial role of honorary president. "I suspect he will visit stores for a long time to come," said Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King. "Sir Ken is a much-respected figure, having built a small family business into one of the largest grocery chains in the UK."
Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy also paid tribute to his rival this week. "He has always shown a remarkable feel for ordinary shoppers and how to give them what they want," he said.
Asda boss Andy Bond said: "He's been an inspiration to retailers here and further afield. I've always found him a real gentleman. He'll be sorely missed."
It will be a relief to Sir Ken that he is able to leave on a high note after the troublesome £3.35bn takeover of Safeway in 2004. He joined his father's business in 1952 after finishing national service in the army. After floating the company in 1967, he delivered 37 years of unbroken profit before the Safeway takeover temporarily stalled it. But following the appointment of Marc Bolland as chief executive, Morrisons this week reported customer numbers have grown by half a million a week in the past year.
Sir Ken is succeeded by his deputy Sir Ian Gibson.and now a non-food assault
Morrisons has given its strongest hint yet it is ready to try and compete with Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's in the non-food stakes by confirming it was to expand its range.
Morrisons' strength has always been in straight-forward food retailing and its 2004 acquisition of Safeway, during a period when other retailers were rolling out significant non-food offerings, left the UK's number four unable to compete on the likes of clothing and household ranges. But when its full-year results were published this week, chief executive Marc Bolland said Morrisons was set to increase its range.
"Our home and leisure department showed good growth, albeit this was of CDs and DVDs at low margin. New, broader ranges will be introduced in the coming year," he said.
Bolland said the company's refurbishment programme to sharpen its image is due for completion in July. Its announcement last week that it would only sell British fresh beef has also been roundly welcomed by farmers.