Getting good A Levels and partying at Freshers’ Week is enough for most 18-year-olds. Harris Aslam, though, has his eye on a somewhat bigger prize: the leadership of Nisa Retail, a grocery supplier with £1.6bn in annual sales.
Aslam left school at 13, but was elected to the board of the mutual, which supplies food and drink to more than 1,000 subscribing member stores, as a non-executive director three years ago.
He already runs three shops in Fife with cousin Raza Rehman, who is also on the board, and the pair have more than doubled turnover from £1.2m to £3m in recent years and plan to take over six post offices.
But the business isn’t in best shape. Not only is chief executive Neil Turton stepping down after 23 years in charge, but chief operating officer Amanda Jones is leaving to take up the same role at Conviviality Retail (the group behind Bargain Booze).
And if that wasn’t enough, Nisa’s biggest customer Costcutter cut off its 27-year relationship in favour of another wholesaler, Palmer and Harvey, in July. Meanwhile, the big supermarkets are also shifting further into convenience stores, as their sales are gobbled up by discounters Aldi and Lidl.
Aslam, who is studying part time for a law degree at Dundee’s Abertay University and a Master of Arts from St Andrew’s insisted his youth shouldn’t be a barrier to him being elected by members to become chief executive.
‘Two years ago there was criticism when I applied for the [non-executive director] role. I was against three other applicants who had a lot more experience, but the membership chose me,’ he told The Sunday Times. 'It wasn't by a small majority, it was a clear majority. The membership is passionate for change.’
‘I have a vision of where I want the business to be in five years,’ he continued. ‘£2billion turnover and beyond, united, unified and harnessing the talent we have with the existing membership.’?
But a statement from Nisa hinted current management wasn’t quite so sure of Aslam as he was of himself. ‘Anybody can apply for this, but when push comes to shove we have a robust process in place with an executive search firm,' it said.
'It's going to be someone who's suitably experienced and with a very strong background in executive-level management who will get the position.’ Probably not Aslam, then, but you can’t fault his ambition.