Egg companies of all shapes and sizes can learn much from the rise of Tesco, from supermarket “also-ran” in the early 1990s to its current status of global retailer.
Addressing the International Egg Commission conference in London, former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy described how the business had grown 10 times faster than Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer to totally dominate the retail sector.
As chief executive from 1997, Sir Terry told delegates he had learned many management lessons, which could be applied to all businesses, large or small.
The first was for company leaders to “find the truth” rather than listen to what people thought they wanted to hear. “It is very difficult in business organisations to get a clear view of the world around you – to see yourself as others see you,” he said.
The most reliable views came from customers, who had no axes to grind. “If you keep listening, they’ll give you the strategy for growth.”
He also urged businesses to “set audacious goals”. “All organisations are capable of much more than they think they are if you stretch and inspire them. Really express the vision, objectives and strategy in bold terms that excites everyone in the business.”
“A good leader will take you further than you would go on your own.”
Sir Terry Leahy
Sir Terry also emphasised the “soft side” of management, involving staff at all levels to develop the vision and culture of the company. At Tesco this process culminated in the “every little helps” strapline.
Following customer trends was also crucial. Businesses that felt they’d “seen it all before” could quickly be exposed. “Customers can change overnight, and can leave your business flatfooted,” he said, citing Nokia and Blackberry as examples of companies that had been found wanting.
Having the right systems in place to actually put ideas into action was essential, he added, while businesses also needed to collate and understand relevant data to see what was happening in the market and to refine their offer.
Finally, Sir Terry emphasised the benefits of having strong competitors. “Look at their strengths – that’s what teaches you the most,” he said. “Competitors are your best teachers – and they don’t charge like management consultants.”
Looking further ahead, Sir Terry said trust was one of the essential drivers of growth for a business, as was having a product that could benefit people’s health. Eggs had a lot of potential in this respect, but the egg sector was not exploiting that message fully. “Eggs are nature’s perfect food.”