Ken Morrison to Dalton Philips: your strategy is 'bullshit'

The supermarket's share price has dropped nearly 2% after its patriarch lambasted CEO Dalton Philips in a angry tirade at Morrisons' AGM.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Jun 2014

Is this the beginning of the end for Morrisons chief executive Dalton Phillips? The already-embattled chief executive had to endure the humiliation of Sir Ken Morrison - the man who built the business from a small family retailer to one of the UK's Big Four supermarkets - calling his strategy 'bullshit' at its AGM today.

The Evening Standard reported that Morrison launched into a tirade againt Philips: 'When I left work and started working as a hobby, I chose to raise cattle. I have something like 1,000 bullocks and, having listened to your presentation, Dalton, you've got a lot more bullshit than me,' he ranted.

There's more. 'The results were described by the chairman and chief executive as "disappointing". I personally thought they were disastrous. I warned in 2009 and 2012 that changes being implemented by directors would seriously damage the business and I'm extremely sorry to admit that my comments, whilst unwelcome, were absolutely right and today we have seen the consequences.'

Morrison's nephew Chris Blundell - also a former Morrisons-ite - joined in with his uncle (presumably Ken's second cousins were too busy to make the AGM). 'I think we’re in a rescue situation here and it needs urgent action. Things need to be done very quickly. We are losing our reputation. A reputation is everything in business and I think you’ve lost that to a great extent.'

You can understand their frustrations: in May, the supermarket posted like-for-like sales excluding fuel which were down 7.1% in the 13 weeks to the beginning of May. Earlier this week, figures by Kantar Worldpanel showed Morrisons had lost more than 3% of its market share. And to add insult to injury, Philips decided to project a baguette on the Angel of the North. Which didn't go down well.

To give Philips some credit, it was Sir Ken who famously dismissed the idea of online retail, meaning the company didn't even try to compete with rivals like Tesco, who embraced the internet relatively early on, for years. In fact, Morrisons has only just launched its online offering. It's been 20 years since the internet became widely available. Of course, there's also the argument that supermarket superstars Aldi and Lidl don't have an online offering either...

But there's clearly unhappiness among the supermarket's upper echelons. Just this morning, it announced its chairman, Sir Ian Gibson, will step down this time next year. And lest we forget, in April Morrisons' former property director, Roger Owen, said the business was 'a supertanker headed for an iceberg'. Or an iceberg lettuce. Whatever.

What next? Sir Ken is still hugely respected by investors. If he calls 'bullshit', many are likely to follow suit. Morrisons' share price is presumably beginning to look very attractive to private equity firms - particularly considering that, unlike its rivals, it actually owns all its own stores. Time to start looking over its shoulder....

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