Mark Price: Capitalism's opponents aren't all petrol bomb-wielding anarchists

UPDATE: The former Waitrose boss turned trade minister quits the government.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 04 Sep 2017

Mark Price has just quit as the UK's Minister of State for Trade Policy. A rare modern example of a successful business person turned politician, he became a life peer and government minister in February 2016, initially with the trade and investment brief.

Price, aka 'the Chubby Grocer', is a John Lewis Partnership lifer who became MD of Waitrose in 2007.  He saw the business through one of the most turbulent times in modern groceries retail, and is also the the man loyalty-card holders can thank for the free papers, tea and coffee.

Price has said he wants to pursue his business and writing interests.

Here's an interview we did with him, originally published July 31. 

Why did you write your new book, Fairness for All? 

I was motivated after going to the Occupy protest outside St Paul's in 2011. What struck me was that they weren't the anarchists you see throwing petrol bombs outside G7 meetings, they were ordinary people, expressing ordinary concerns. At its most ruthless, capitalism will exploit to the benefit of those providing finance. That's being exacerbated by the digital and global age.

I wanted to tell the story of the John Lewis Partnership in the modern context, explaining how engaging the workforce has wider advantages for society.

How important is long-term thinking in business?

It's a conversation I used to have with my marketing directors when I ran Waitrose - who's more important, the customers you have or the customers you don't have? The answer is always the customers you already have. It's why I introduced the free coffee and newspapers.

Your father was a wholesaler - what did you learn from him?

When I was about 10, we called on this lad who'd just set up a grocery. My father agreed to sell him half a box of biscuits. When we got home, we noticed we'd only given him 11 instead of 12 packs, so we drove back to give him the extra one. He was incredibly grateful. Later, he grew his business into a chain but my dad kept his business. It's one of those great lessons: someone who's small today could be huge in the future.

You're now Minister of State for Trade Policy - how different are politics and business?

I was with the Polish PM a few months ago - he ran Santander in Poland. He said the difference isn't apples and pears, it's apples and elephants. You have to take a long-term view, it requires consensual thinking - even Donald Trump said it's harder than he thought.

How has your role changed since the Brexit vote?

The nature of the job has changed quite a lot. When David Cameron asked me to do the job last February, he said it was predominately about promoting British business abroad and driving inward investment. The trade policy bit was about 5%. Now I’m spending three out of four weeks abroad. I think we’ll have a good set of trade deals if you take the medium to long term view, because people want to trade with the UK, but there’s a heck of a lot of work to do. 

Fairness for All by Mark Price is published by David Fickling Books, £10.99


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime