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 839.

    re: 837. tonep
    >>Tescos is absolutely brilliant - free parking, has 99% of everything I want both food and non-food.....

    I have to agree. I can't remember the last time I did any shopping in a conventional High Street. Leahy is right, the world has moved on - High Streets have not, or cannot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.


    Tescos is absolutely brilliant - free parking, has 99% of everything I want both food and at 10pm at night to minimise contact with the shambling zombies from Dawn of the your door for less that it would cost in petrol and parking to traipse around 17 shops in town. No brainer.

    Mr Leahy, Tesco can afford to pay for it's crafty adverts :O)

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    Tescos is absolutely brilliant - free parking, has 99% of everything I want both food and non-food, and I can shop at 10pm at night to minimise contact with the shambling zombies from Dawn of the Dead. Failing that they will deliver the whole lot to your door for less that it would cost in petrol and parking to traipse around 17 shops in town. No brainer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 836.

    770. James

    "…you obviously have no commitment to family or friends if you are willing to travel all over the country to find work"

    How are the two mutually exclusive?!

    "…its people like you who put the UK economy at risk"

    People like me who are happy to find work elsewhere & actually contribute to the economy rather than whining about no jobs in my area? You're totally self-contradictory!

  • rate this

    Comment number 835.

    5% of the British population is 5million ??
    either immigration is higher than we ever imagined, we are dumbed down ditto or he had a similar education to many of our politicians.
    little wonder we are losing out to the East
    supermarkets have their downsides but prices would be higher otherwise. town cebtres are past their sellby date for shopping, inconvenient & associated costs for parking etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    This heartless and greedy man has almost single-handedly overseen the demise of town centre shopping. Big shops pay hardly any rates (which is why they can offer free parking) they pay slave wages and pretend that they are cheaper and better quality which they are generally not. The whole thing is a gigantic con and Leahy knows it. Desert Island Discs is really scraping the barrel inviting him on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    Maybe someone should consider setting up an out of town 'retail park' comprised of independent food and drink traders of all kinds and a local farmers market in the centre at weekends with a focus on quality. All in one place, with parking.

    It would make Tescos et al look like plastic wrapped, low quality bargain warehouses instead of the only viable place to buy food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 832.

    This company has always attracted/been involved with nasty people.

    Remind me who the daughter of their founder was?

    Oh yes. That's right. Chair woman of Westminster Council.

    I wonder if she advised Cameron on gerrymandering?


  • rate this

    Comment number 831.

    I say boycott Tesco they believe in killing the little man, lets kill the big boy. No people power in UK

  • Comment number 830.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 829.

    @ Lin we all use them [sups] because they are cheaper and have more variety in them.

    Straight bananas, perfect, round apples and toms: these aren't wonders of natural variety, they're tasteless cloned wonders of the SainTescRose max profit machine. The cloned, cheapo, cholesterol laden, artery clogging, heart attacking BOGOFF fat in sups' processed products is'nt variety, Lin, it's death!

  • rate this

    Comment number 828.

    Who are the people that feel they have to buy small packets of "hand shelled fresh peas" flown in from East Africa? I envisage themas metro-elite pseuds who love all things green. This is the economics of the mad house, and in the long term unsustainable. The population increases, farms go out of business and the supermarkets grow richer while we are less able to feed ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 827.

    Clear bias in Editors picks on this subject... but then, it was the BBC that put this despicable man on Dessert Island Disks... who plays goldf with who i wonder?

  • rate this

    Comment number 826.

    Just now
    David H

    Lol no, I'm just amazed at the lack of intelligence of some people. So the stock market is nearly 10% up so far this year and your fund has grown by 1.66%. How strange?
    I can't invest in the entire stock market, and 1.66%(current)in 1month
    is fine by me. better than under the mattress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 825.

    A large Tesco opened near where I lived. Tesco paid for the bus stop to be moved next to their store, whereas previously the bus stop was adjacent to the local shops, which included an excellent Spar and a baker's. Within 6 months the local shops had closed. This is unfair competition -- moving bus stops to suit Tesco should not be allowed. That high street is now a desert. Progress? No!

  • rate this

    Comment number 824.

    I will keep my medieval attitude to shopping and stay with the small shops and farmers markets where ever possible.I've switched to a local farmshop, the meat is excellent, local and better priced than the supermarkets. The veg is fresh,local and again well priced. There is better out there - it jst needs to be fond.

  • rate this

    Comment number 823.

    818 James
    There are no apostrophes in "hundreds of thousands".
    It doesn't matter HOW they started off, it's what they are like NOW that matters. OK most retailers don't compete effectively, but they DO compete with each other, they don't get the chance with Tesco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    David H.

    Clearly you're the most intelligent person ever to post on HYS, however with all those thoughts running through your mind, contemplating the Meaning of Life and whether to have fish fingers of findus crispy pancakes for tea, you may have missed this.

    Catch you later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    Supermarkets are useful for convenience, but when I have time I buy my fruit and veg from the local greengrocer and my meat for the local butcher, most of the time I find they are cheaper. With the butcher the quality is a lot better than any supermarket. Also, if I ask for a beef burger, I get a beef burger, not a horse burger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    Missing the point Liberty Rose - I'm not agreeing with Tescos, I dislike them with a passion. Economies of scale are what enable you to buy cheap electronics on which to post comments, if your laptop or whatever was made on the high street you wouldn't be able to afford it. I choose to buy in Lidls/Aldi/farm shops etc because the prices are good and the quality a lot better than Tescos


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