Small shop closures are progress, says ex-Tesco boss

Sir Terry Leahy Sir Terry Leahy was instrumental in the rise of Tesco to become Britain's biggest retailer

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The former boss of Tesco has described the rise of supermarkets and closure of small shops as "part of progress".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, Sir Terry Leahy also called some High Streets "medieval", saying the way people lived their lives had changed.

Sir Terry said seeing boarded up local shops was sad, but this happened because consumers were choosing to shop at the bigger supermarkets.

The benefits of out-of-town stores outweighed the downsides, he added.

When asked if he thought it was just "tough" that a family butcher had to close because it couldn't compete with the "three-quid chicken" sold at the supermarket, he said: "Small benefits for thousands of families can be a big loss for the family of the butcher but you can never be casual about it.

"You have to ensure the better organisations come through."

Start Quote

I felt very strongly inside that Tesco was doing the right thing... but I realised I wasn't winning the argument for some people.”

End Quote Sir Terry Leahy Former Tesco boss

Sir Terry got his first job at a Tesco in Wandsworth, London, when he was 17-years-old so he could support himself during sixth form college.

The third of four sons, he grew up in a prefab on an estate in Liverpool. His father was a greyhound trainer and his mother was a nurse.

He said he couldn't please everybody when it came to views on supermarkets over small High Street stores.

"If you talk to people, 95% of the population quite like supermarkets but 5% don't, but in Britain this (5%) is three million people so they have a right to say what they think.

"I felt very strongly inside that Tesco was doing the right thing, in terms of how it was conducting its business, how it was serving ordinary people and how it was employing ordinary people but I realised I wasn't winning the argument for some people."

Large chains

The British Independent Retailers Association said 98% of the the UK's £150bn grocery industry was controlled by just nine stores.

But deputy chief executive Michael Weedon claimed there could be a silver lining for smaller businesses.

He said as large chains such as HMV and Blockbuster closed, more retail premises would become available at cheaper rents.

Among the tracks Sir Terry chose to take with him to a desert island were The Beatles' I Want To Hold Your Hand, Simon & Garfunkel's Homeward Bound, Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough and Pachelbel's Canon in D.

He said he would also take The Complete Works of Charles Dickens and his luxury item would be tea.

As chief executive, he made his name transforming the supermarket from a lacklustre brand into Britain's biggest retailer.

Desert Island Discs with Sir Terry Leahy was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11:15 GMT on Sunday 3 February


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  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    I live near Stratford-on-Avon - there is a very large out of town retail park there (which includes a Tesco).

    Stratford town centre is hardly suffering and you wanna try getting 10,000 more cars into town to pop to the shops -

    Out of town retail parks certainly have their place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    I used to support the small shops, but the low quality of the produce and the blatant padding of the quantities and price has convinced me to shop at - oddly enough - the local tesco supermarket. Small retailers have themselves to blame for losing this customer.

  • Comment number 197.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Progress? the dawn of the dinosaurs for sure,,, like the banks,,, they became too big,,, there was no alternative but to bail them out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    One day, nearly everyone will work for tesco, shop at tesco and revolve their life around tesco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    this man epitomises the fat cat greed is good culture which is destroying the british way of life aided and abetted by local councils who are bought off by these large chain stores and allowing them to build massive supermarkets and out of town refail parks .

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Please don't be so hard on this poor individual he is right in what he says this is progress,but of course he forgot to say for Supermarkets. I wonder how the nation of shop keepers ever managed without Supermarkets. If the government were to give a fair playing field to all then maybe the small shops could come back where they belong amongst the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    High streets aren't just bricks and mortar, if you call them medieval, then you are also calling their users medieval. I for one prefer to be medieval and walk 5 minutes to my local shops rather then drive 30 mins across a congested town, just to visit a sea of car parks and identi-kit buildings, where charm, knowledge and personal service are not high on the agenda and only profit counts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    I hear people bleat on & on about saving the high st and those poor independent shops that close, but they then make up 101 excuses why they themselves don't shop in town any more.

    Blaming the big supermarkets and online retailers which most folk themselves use is just hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    I think Leahy has chosen the wrong words, rather than 'part of progress' he should say 'part of history'. The reason these high-street retailers are closing is because no one is buying anything from there. Simple as that. I don't quite understand the faux outrage. People choosing (God-forbid "Free Will") to buy their desired products at a cheaper price is you know....normal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I Never go to Tesco, Morrison Sainsbury's etc. I can get everything I want from my local shops and do not have to spend a fortune on petrol. People do not take the cost of fuel into consideration when looking at prices. In addition, I can get veg that is not chilled and last longer, Meat from a butcher who can tell me what farm it came from and know that when I buy beef it is not horse or pig.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    I agree I'd like to see a vibrant 'locally populated' high street but if, for whatever reason, this isn't possible, what do local councils have in mind to turn them from ghost towns/ghettos etc?

    All I can see in the vast majority of local towns is empty units, depressing grey colours and miserable people. This has got to change

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Our council are forever trying to find ways to increase revenue through car parking charges. They charge £1.20 per hour on a Sunday, and guess what? The town is dead on a Sunday. My road has resident's permits to stop naughty shoppers sneaking a freebie. It is actually cheaper for those in the outlying villages to drive to Bluewater and park for free than to use their local town.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    When Tescos wish to open a large store they should be forced to allow the construction of rows of small shops along two sides of the car park in order to provide competition, plus niche quality goods or personal services. That would solve the parking problem, address quality issues and breath life into small shops - they would not be allowed to own the businesses operating in those shops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Small shops closure progress? What about less choice for customers, bigger profits for the supermarkets, erosion of the local community, and last but not least, more people without jobs and bills to pay. Of course it;s progress to you, you worked as CEO for the customer's friend. Now about that horsemeat......

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Actually my local shops are considerably cheaper than the nearest Tesco. They are also more helpful, friendly and part of my community.
    Terry dear, you may have money, but you have a lot to learn. Are you happy, or just rich?

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Our village has a co-op. We also had a separate post office. The co-op took the post office into its store & bought the old post office building in the process. That building has remained empty for 18 months because the co-op won't lease it to anyone selling any food products. Big stores don't want vibrant communities, they want localised monopolies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    173 randombeard
    I'm sure Tescos would love to sell cars ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I do not believe all these Saints who claim to have never used smacking or similar. They will all, at some time, have forcefully grabbed an arm or hand or collar or shrieked hysterically to prevent hurt to their children.

    Then they will have calmly explained in great detail to a child with a limited vocabulary the dangers of xxx before placing them in solitary to "think" about their actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    I wonder how many people crying about Leahy's comments indeed shop at Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Morissons...

    So many keyboard warriors.


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