By Sarah E Taylor-Oracle on Apr 05, 2011
So much happens at the Oracle Retail Week Awards that it is often difficult to take it all in on the night. Yesterday, I found myself recalling Sir Ken Morrison's comments about Sir Terry Leahy, and in particular, his description of Leahy as "the greatest businessman of the late 20th and early 21st century" as he presented him with the Retail Week Lifetime Achievement Award.
This is a big statement. There is no denying Leahy's achievements at Tesco, the legacy he leaves behind and also the impact this has created around the world. Sir Ken referenced the Clubcard as one of the key successes of the era and indeed Leahy himself sees this initiative as the enabling factor that drove the customer to the heart of the Tesco business. Developed while Leahy was Marketing Director, Clubcard has been influential in maintaining Tesco's stance in the number one position and has been copied to less effect throughout the world.
Another element of Leahy's legacy that stands out for me is the retailer's impressive international expansion, with the Tesco Operating Model at its foundation. By no means is this a unique offering - several retail organisations utilise a common set of technologies and applications upon which they manage their businesses. However, the Tesco approach has been to be very specific in identifying the very best set of solutions for particular aspects of their business. Tesco worked hard to create a model that was able to work locally from Turkey to Thailand. Much has been made of Tesco's ability to identify emerging markets and develop the Tesco concept successfully within these countries but the Tesco Operating Model is a key element of this success. If you don't get the HQ, DCs and stores working effectively, your business will fail. If you can't get the right product to the customer at the right time, you lose a sale and sometimes that customer's business. Serving a global customer demands a business to have truly global process and technology.
Leahy's successor, Philip Clarke in his previous role as IT and International Director was influential in ensuring that the Tesco Operating Model was implemented to great effect. It will be interesting to see over time how retail businesses seek to copy the Operating Model, as they have done the ClubCard. It is too soon to speculate on what Clarke's business legacy will be. Putting the customer at the heart of business is a lesson that every company can learn from Tesco. Creating a truly global business for a global customer is where Clarke's international and technology skills give him a real edge as a forward looking businessman for the 21st century.