business news in context, analysis with attitude

Fascinating piece this morning in The New York Times about Sir Kenneth Morrison, the chairman of William Morrison Supermarkets and the son of the company’s founder. At 71, Morrison’s efforts to acquire Safeway Plc will be the difference between keeping his company viable as a national player that can hold its own with Tesco, Sainsbury and Wal-Mart’s Asda unit, and being a regional grocer.

Several interesting points made by the NYT:

  • ”By striking first, Sir Kenneth has guaranteed himself a seat at the table, analysts said. Even if he loses Safeway to deeper-pocketed competitors, he still has a good chance of acquiring stores that a bigger rival would have to sell to satisfy antitrust concerns. And he would come away with a £25 million ($41 million) breakup fee from Safeway if it accepts a rival offer.”

  • In many ways, Morrison is in an underdog role because of class issues; he is from northern England. “He does not have the financial and political influence that some of his rivals command, and such differences can be magnified in Britain, where a deep social divide persists between the industrial north of the country and the urbane white-collar south,” the NYT writes.

    “Sir Kenneth and his family, whose 35 percent of the Morrison chain is currently valued at £900 million ($1.48 billion), are extremely wealthy by most standards. But they have not been included in rankings of Britain's wealthiest people compiled by The Sunday Times of London, which noted Sir Kenneth's northern accent in a recent column.”

  • ”Those who know Sir Kenneth say he remains a grocer at heart, unconcerned with the trappings of power and prestige.”

  • While other supermarket chains introduced loyalty cards and nonfood products like home furnishings and clothing, Sir Kenneth stuck to food. The stores emphasize low prices and are designed to resemble an old-fashioned market square, with separate stalls for the fishmonger, butcher and baker, recalling the ones his father ran.

  • The NYT notes that Morrison’s stock price has grown by more than 46 percent since 1996, better even than Asda’s, and that its sales-per-square-foot are better than Safeway’s.

    And finally, the NYT notes that “analysts say Sir Kenneth's approach reminds them of another homespun retailer: Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.”
KC's View:
While Morrison is fighting an uphill battle, we’re rooting for him…the same way we always root for the Red Sox and the Cubs.

This is an excellent piece, and is worth reading at