Brain Food: Speaking Out - Sir Terry Leahy, CEO, Tesco

What is Leahy for? By that I don't mean to imply that he's useless. Clearly, as head of Britain's leading food retailer he is highly capable. But what does he really believe in? Giving the Marketing Society's annual lecture, he had a perfect opportunity to inspire more than 450 of the UK's top marketing brains, but he didn't.

by Khalid Aziz, chairman of spoken communications specialist the Aziz Corporation - www.azizcorp.com
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

His subject was billed 'Reinvention'. Leahy soon squashed that one by saying with some humour that he wasn't going to talk about that. Instead, we got a gentle ramble through his career, starting with Tesco (after a brief spell at the Co-op) in 1979 as a trainee marketing manager, being promoted to marketing director in 1984 and CEO in 1997. A seemingly seamless rise, though he confessed that when invited to become marketing director, he 'felt like one of those extras you've never previously seen in Star Trek, who are asked to beam down to some strange new planet with Captain Kirk. You just know they are going to end up dead'.

His delivery was personal - the 'errs' and 'ums' confirmed that. Certainly, there was humour. But here was a marketing man talking to marketing people. A perfect audience; a chance to give some insights into how one of retailing's greatest brands grew to become bigger than M&S and Sainsbury's put together. Afterwards, people said they'd hoped for some 'nuggets'. There were none. Instead, lots of stuff about how the Value brand was blue-and-white because Leahy was an Everton supporter.

Key moment: The revelation that in the 1990s a tobacco company decided not to take Tesco over because it might harm its brand reputation.

Key lesson: It's good to use your own words and to entertain, but make sure there's substance.

Foot in mouth?

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