Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sir Terry Leahy

There's an article here about the retirement of one of the most successful CEOs in British history.

How the article ends is very instructive when it comes to leadership in whatever capacity as well as the problems besetting the British corporate (and public for that matter) sector...

Sir Terry frequently says that there is no secret to his success – apart from paying attention to what customers want (as head of marketing, he pioneered the loyalty card). But I suspect that what really sets him apart from peers who are also bright, energetic and driven is that he has avoided many of the traps that lie in wait for the unwary CEO.

First and foremost, he is more interested in Tesco than in himself. As one person who has worked with him told me: "It's not that he doesn't have an ego – they all have an ego – but he doesn't have the personal vanity that afflicts almost every other chief executive."

Another said: "After a while, so many of these guys think they are supergods. He doesn't." The decision not to sit on the board of any other company typifies this attitude: he thinks he should dedicate himself to Tesco and does not consider himself above dealing with the nitty-gritty of the business, as well as the big picture. He has not sought to maximise profits in the short term: Tesco's margins are low, but by investing in lower prices for customers, the business has inexorably built market share.

Sir Terry's unremitting obsession with all things Tesco may also be the reason why he is often called boring. I have met duller men, but it is true that he is neither charming nor charismatic.

Caution, obsession with detail, genuine love of the business. It is not rocket science. But it is depressingly rare.

(emphasis mine)

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