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Tesco CEO delivers Sir Roland Smith Lecture

02/05/2008 16:37:59

Sir Terry Leahy
Sir Terry Leahy

Sir Terry Leahy, CEO at TESCO, gave the fourth annual Professor Sir Roland Smith Lecture, organised by Lancaster University.

At the event in London on February 5th hosted by Lancaster University Management School, Sir Terry Leahy told business leaders and Government representatives that supermarkets are a force for good in society: they extend choice; promote healthy living; create jobs and are harnessing consumer power to deliver sustainable consumption.

Sir Terry said: ’I believe the consumer is a force for good in society, an engine for growth and sustainability’.

Releasing new figures which quantify shoppers’ savings at Tesco for the first time, Sir Terry said making good, fresh food widely available not just to the affluent few was a mark of a progressive society. He said that in contrast to other household essentials, food prices have been held down.

He said: ‘Supermarkets have become a lever of social change, a source of social mobility. Not just in giving people more choice in what they buy, but in providing more jobs.

The lecture, “A force for good in society: supermarkets and sustainable consumption" debated the role of supermarkets in society, the benefits they bring and how they can harness consumer power to address the key challenge of the future: climate change.

The series of lectures commemorates the contribution Sir Roland Smith made to the world of academia and business. Lancaster University Management School has recently hosted lectures from some of the most influential international business leaders - from Stephen Green, Group Chief Executive of HSBC Holdings plc to John Roberts, CEO of United Utilities , Larry Hirst, Chief Executive of IBM UK Limited and Christopher Rodrigues, President and Chief Executive Officer of Visa International,

Sir Terry said: ‘The power of the consumer,gives us a lever to address one of the greatest challenges of our time: climate change.’

According to the agenda-setting Stern report on climate change, spending £1 today on energy-saving initiatives may save future generations £5-£20. But consumers have two mindsets. They want choice – a German beer or a European mini-break – but they also recognise the threat of climate change. Sir Terry argued that the two mindsets are not incompatible: consumers look to companies such as Tesco to remove barriers to ‘green’ behaviour, such as high prices or lack of information.

Sir Terry said: ’Sustainable consumption - the ability to consume while protecting the environment, not damaging it - is possible.

’But only if you understand that consumers – and suppliers of products and services – are part of the solution to climate change.’

Sir Terry, who graduated from UMIST, is considered to be one of the most influential business leaders in the UK today and was taught and greatly influenced by the late Professor Sir Roland Smith and also by Professor Cary Cooper, who is now professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School. Professor Cooper was a colleague and friend of Roland Smith. Sir Terry described Sir Roland Smith as “a pioneer of marketing as a discipline in this country” and spoke of his admiration of a man who “knew how to ask the right questions, and the importance of keeping things simple.”

Sir Terry Leahy and Professor Cary Cooper
Sir Terry Leahy and Professor Cary Cooper

Professor Cooper said: “What is going on in UK management schools like Lancaster is having a major impact on UK business and we are producing the best CEOs in the world. Professor Sir Roland Smith straddled academia and the corporate world and was a true champion of business.”

Sir Terry concluded the lecture by encouraging businesses and governments to put their trust in consumers.

‘Consumers fuel our economy, creating jobs, investment, tax revenue. If, like me, you believe that consumers want the best not just for themselves and their families, but also for the wider community, you will see why they are a force for good. ‘

LancasterUniversityManagementSchool is rated joint first in the UK for research. In 2003 LUMS was one of only two UK business schools (the other being London Business School) to be rated a 6-star (6*) centre of world-class research in business and management.

Sir Terry Leahy is Chief Executive Officer of Tesco, the UK's leading supermarket retailer. He began his career as a marketing executive with Tesco in 1979, after graduating from UMIST, and was appointed CEO in 1997. He was Britain's "Business Leader of the Year" in 2003 and the Fortune European Businessman of the Year for 2003. In 2005 he was selected as Britain's most admired business leader by Management Today, and a Guardian Unlimited Politics panel found him to be the most influential non-elected person in Britain in 2007.

Professor Sir Roland Smith was one of the UK's top business academics and a leading businessman. Sir Roland was actively involved in the take-over battle involving the House of Fraser and Harrods and, as Chairman of British Aerospace, was prime mover in the purchase of the Rover Group. As President of the Equitable Life Assurance Company he helped build it into a multi-billion pound business. He was also Chairman of Hepworth plc, Readicut International and Manchester United plc. Sir Roland was also a Director of the Bank of England and Advisory Director to HSBC Bank. Professor Sir Roland Smith was Chancellor of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and Emeritus Professor and Honorary Professor of Management Science at Manchester University. Sir Roland figured prominently in the Confederation of British Industry and was a member of the CBI’s President Committee for several years. Sir Roland died in 2003.

Read Sir Terry’s speech: