Supermarket chief Sir Ken Morrison dies at 85

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Sir Ken Morrison, who was instrumental in growing supermarket Morrisons into one of the UK's largest retailers, has died aged 85 following a short illness. 

A statement from Sir Ken's family said he died peacefully at home in North Yorkshire.

It read: "We are very sad to share the news that Sir Ken died today aged 85 following a short illness. He died peacefully at home in North Yorkshire with his family.

"Sir Ken was, of course, a unique figure in the history of grocery retailing in the UK, for more than half a century being the driving force at the heart of Morrisons as it grew from two market stalls to become one of the UK's largest retailers.

"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.

"He showed us all the importance of aiming high but never forgetting the practicalities of life and the humanity of those we deal with.

"A proud Yorkshireman, he never forgot his roots and had a real love for, and commitment to, the people and city of Bradford.

"We will all miss him enormously.

"There will be a private funeral for close family only. At a later date there will also be a public occasion to celebrate Sir Ken's life.

"In the meantime, we will make no further comment and ask that our privacy be respected at this very sad time."

 

Sir Ken, who was one of Yorkshire's richest men, stood down as chairman and chief executive of Morrisons in 2008.

The Yorkshireman joined Morrisons when he finished National Service in 1952 and just four years later became chairman and managing director, although he relinquished the latter role in 1997.

His association with the company started before the Second World War, however, when, aged nine, he helped his father on his Bradford market stall.

It was under Sir Ken's leadership that 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.

Expansion across the North of England continued and in 1998 Morrisons opened its first store in the South - in Erith, Kent - before opening its 100th store in its centenary year in 1999.

Infamously, he described former Morrisons boss Dalton Philips's strategy as "bullshit" in 2014, as the then-chief executive faced intense pressure amid sliding sales and a fierce supermarket price war.

A statement from the supermarket, headed by chief executive David Potts, said: "Sir Ken was an inspirational retailer who led Morrisons for more than half a century, transforming the company from a small family business into the UK's fourth largest food retailer. 

"Sir Ken 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."

Sir Ken was awarded a CBE in 1990 and knighted in the millennium New Year Honours list for his services to the food retailing industry.

Andrew Higginson, chairman of Morrisons, said: "I know that I speak for the whole company when I say how profoundly sad we were to hear of Sir Ken's death.

"He was an inspirational leader and the driving force behind Morrisons for over half a century. Although he retired several years ago, his legacy is evident every day and in every aspect of our business.

"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.

"On a personal level, Ken was an enormous help to me as we made some significant changes to set the business on a new course. His knowledge of retail and his strategic insights have remained as relevant and intuitive as they were when he first built the business.

"Ken will be remembered by us all for his leadership, his passion for retailing and for his great love of Morrisons. To honour his memory in the most appropriate way we can, we will continue to develop the company that he built and loved.

"We will miss his friendship and his wise counsel very deeply, and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."