Supermarket boss Sir Ken Morrison dies

Sir Ken Morrison Image copyright PA

Sir Ken Morrison has died aged 85 following a short illness, his family has said.

Sir Ken helped grow supermarket Morrisons from a small grocery chain into one of the UK's largest retailers, until he retired in 2008.

He died peacefully at home in North Yorkshire, his family said in a statement.

"Sir Ken was, of course, a unique figure in the history of grocery retailing in the UK," the family said.

For more than half a century Sir Ken was "the driving force at the heart of Morrisons as it grew from two market stalls," they said.

"But to us he was a greatly committed and loving family man, as inspirational and central to us in our daily lives as he was in the business. His drive and ambition, quick intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge were matched with a real curiosity in his fellow man."

"He had a gentle humour and kindness about him and he could, and would, talk with genuine interest to anyone," they added.

Supermarket chain Morrisons said: "Sir Ken was an inspirational retailer who led Morrisons for more than half a century... [he] will be greatly missed by many thousands of his current and former colleagues, a large number of whom became close personal friends over the years."

It's just taking money off people. And giving them something in return."

Sir Ken Morrison on the secret of running a good supermarket

Morrisons added that Sir Ken was "widely considered one of Britain's finest retailers" and that he had "developed the culture, values and clear direction for the business which remain the bedrock of the firm today."

Andrew Higginson, the current chairman of Morrisons, said: "Taking Morrisons from a small Bradford-based family business to a major UK grocery retailing chain is an outstanding achievement in the history of UK business."

Sir Ken was well known for being forthright in his views, once telling shareholders in strong language that he disliked the former chief executive Dalton Philips' turnaround plan.

He said: "The results were described by the chairman and chief executive as 'disappointing'. I personally thought they were disastrous."

Image copyright Morrisons
Image caption Morrisons is one of the UK's oldest retailers

Building the business

Sir Ken, who was one of Yorkshire's richest men, started out at the age of nine helping his father on his Bradford market stall. He joined Morrisons when he finished National Service in 1952.

Four years later became chairman and managing director, although he relinquished the latter role in 1997.

Under his leadership Morrisons opened its first town-centre shop in 1958 and first supermarket in 1961, both in Bradford.

In 1967 he led the company on to the stock market in London, in a share offer which was 174 times oversubscribed as more than 80,000 investors tried to buy a stake.

In 2004 Morrisons bought the Safeway supermarket chain for £3bn, and then rebranded or sold its 479 stores.

Sir Ken Morrison in quotes:

  • When asked the secret of running a good supermarket, he once replied: "It's just taking money off people. And giving them something in return."
  • "I had no formal education for anything," he once said. "I learnt my craft at the dining room table with my dad talking about things."
  • "If in doubt, have a cup of tea."
  • He had no truck with management consultants - "If you don't know how to run your own business, it's time to give up, isn't it?"
  • "Southern shoppers like to think they are sophisticated, don't they? But they're not. There's not so much difference down there. They say poor people need a bargain. Wealthy people appreciate one."
  • "We'll run our basic business as we've always run it. We've got no plans to tailor it to a middle class shopper. I don't even know what a middle class shopper is."
  • Asked about his wife's reaction to the news that he was launching a surprise bid for Safeway, he said: "Strangely enough, I didn't tell my wife at the beginning. What did she say when I did tell her? She said nothing, she said: 'Your tea's ready'."

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