Sarah Olney calls for Morrisons’ workers to be protected ahead of the major takeover

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In the Guardian, Sarah Olney is quoted calling for protection for workers in the forthcoming takeover of Morrisons:

It would be a great shame to see local teams lose their stake in the future direction of the business. With uncertain economic times ahead, the new owners must pass the key tests of not loading the business with debt, not cutting jobs, and critically, protecting existing working conditions.

There is particular concern that the supermarket will be “heaped with debt and stripped of assets as a result of the company’s pending takeover”.

You can read the full article here.

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17 Comments

  • Morrisons acquired the much larger Safeway chain of supermarkets in 2003. The rationale for the acquisition was expected synergies that would allow the larger group to negotiate more competitive terms with suppliers; generate economies of scale by combining back-office, distribution and marketing functions and applying Morrisons thrift skills in cost control to the Safeway chain. It was, however, a case study in what could go wrong when a very different corporate culture was introduced.
    Morrisons was run by Ken Morrison, the autocratic 72 year old son of the founder and was the only FTSE company to have no non-executive directors.
    Morrisons failed to persuade many of Safeway’s key staff to move North to the groups headquarters and many of the staff (particularly those with expertise with Safeway’s IT systems) were removed soon after the takeover. It was difficult to integrate the two companies computer systems and dual systems had to be run for several years.
    Morrisons was a low cost provider focused on markets in the North, while Safeway’s was a more upmarket chain based in the South.
    The outcome was that Morrisons had to issue five profit warnings in the 15 months following the takeover and the group plunged from a combined profit of £650m before the merger to a loss of £300m in the initial post-merger period. About 50 shops were disposed of following the takeover.
    Philip Green withdrew his rival offer for Safeway at the time on the basis that it was not clear whether approval could be obtained to sell off individual shops to other chains. He is back in the news today as part of the Pandora Papers leak
    Private equity returns are very much focused on debt leveraging, share buybacks, cost reductions and asset disposals. Let’s hope that lessons have been learned from the earlier experiences of Morrison’s takeover of Safeway.

  • Jason Connor 5th Oct '21 - 4:14pm

    Morrisons stands for quality food and the spread of their stores to Southern England has gone rather well. It’s good of Sarah to mention the protection of existing working conditions and not cutting jobs in this unsavoury takeover. That’s social protection is what social liberalism, as opposed to the orange booker variety which puts profits and privatisation before people, is all about. I have not heard Labour comment on this issue.

  • Jason Connor 5th Oct '21 - 4:35pm

    I take that back on Labour, have just seen the Guardian article and they are mentioned.

  • Peter 5th Oct ’21 – 4:14pm:
    For much of September we had very little wind and as a consequence, very little electricity from the installed capacity of almost 25GW.

    And on a fairly windy day still generating only 13.2GW – little more than half of their nameplate capacity…

    GridWatch:
    https://gridwatch.co.uk/?oldgw=

  • John Marriott 5th Oct '21 - 7:36pm

    @Jeff
    You’ve got the wrong thread, mate. Get a grip!

  • nigel hunter 5th Oct '21 - 7:49pm

    What concerns me is the constant take over of the UK inrfastructure and the uncertainty of where the money will end up and what it means for the people..This ‘investment’ in the country according to the government,how much will go into developing our needs? ‘Free trade’ seems to be the big sharks gobbling up the little fish and enriching themselves

  • @ Joe Bourke I don’t know why Joseph Bourke has chosen to call Ken Morrison ‘autocratic’.

    As a fellow ex Bradford Grammar School pupil, (where Lady Lynne Morrison is still Chair of Governors) I must tell Joseph that Ken was much better and much more than that……. and he did sort out Safeway PDQ. During Sir Ken’s lifetime Morrison’s was an excellent organisation and a good employer with a first class range of goods. As for Ken, I’ll simply quote what his family said of him when he died :

    “To us he was a greatly committed and loving family man, as inspirational and central to us in our daily lives as he was in the business. His drive and ambition, quick intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge were matched with a real curiosity in his fellow man.

    ‘He had a gentle humour and kindness about him and he could, and would, talk with genuine interest to anyone. He showed us all the importance of aiming high but never forgetting the practicalities of life and the humanity of those we deal with. A proud Yorkshireman, he never forgot his roots and had a real love for, and commitment to, the people and city of Bradford. We will all miss him enormously.

  • Dave Simpson 6th Oct '21 - 8:49am

    @nigel hunter

    You arr ight to be concerned.According to

    https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/investmentspensionsandtrusts/bulletins/ownershipofukquotedshares/2018

    55% of the shares of UK-domiciled businesses are owned by foreigners. So, apart from anything else, over half the dividends are lost to the UK economy for further investment or spending in the UK econamy.

  • David Raw,

    the Guardian obituary explains why the late Ken Morrison was viewed in City circles as having a autocratic style of leadership https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/01/sir-ken-morrison-obituary
    “In 1997, shortly after reaching the state retirement age, he gave up the managing directorship, but there was no doubt that, despite the niceties of job titles, Morrison remained very much in charge. The notion of becoming a non-executive chairman was not one he accepted. The plain-speaking Yorkshireman had no time for the finer points of corporate governance – he even resisted the idea of appointing non-executive directors until the takeover in 2004 of the rival supermarket group Safeway forced it on him.
    He got away with flouting the City of London’s conventions by turning in increases in profits and dividends year in and year out. From the first supermarket opened in 1961 in a converted cinema in Bradford, Morrisons grew to a chain of more than 100 stores by the millennium.
    A simple enough formula was employed to generate growth. Focusing on offering excellent value to working-class households, Morrison kept costs in the business to an absolute minimum (so much so, there was a policy that telephone calls should not be returned – the caller was always asked to phone back later) while paying strict attention to detail. He was frequently seen around the stores, arriving unannounced and opening packs of food to check their freshness.”
    Morrison…assembled Safeway’s senior executives and told them that this was not a merger, it was a takeover. He then added that Morrisons was from the north, where people worked hard. The implications were obvious, and those able to find new jobs left Morrison and his tiny team to get on with it.
    The companies were operating different computer and distribution systems, and even though Safeway’s was arguably the better, Morrisons closed it in favour of its own. The upshot was that it lost control of both businesses. Profits collapsed and Morrison’s hubris brought about the inevitable nemesis. Investors who little more than a year earlier had been praising him now wanted him out of the picture. Reluctantly, he had to agree to the appointment of a chief executive, and stepped down as chairman in 2008, becoming life president.”

  • Dave Simpson,

    “55% of the shares of UK-domiciled businesses are owned by foreigners. So, apart from anything else, over half the dividends are lost to the UK economy for further investment or spending in the UK economy.”
    That is the inevitable consequence of decades of trade deficits. UK assets have to be sold to pay for large net import bills (not covered by exports). Those assets are principally shares in UK companies, commercial and residential property or corporate and government bonds. The dividends, rents and interest on those assets paid overseas further exacerbate the balance of payments deficit.

  • @David Simpson “55% of the shares of UK-domiciled businesses are owned by foreigners“.

    Firstly, that sentence is not quite correct. It’s 55% of the shares of those UK-domiciled businesses that are publicly traded and on the London Stock Exchange. That by definition excludes all non-publicly traded businesses. (I don’t know what proportion of business value that excludes).

    Secondly, to what extent is that offset by UK residents owning shares in foreign-domiciled businesses? You need to know that figure too before you can make any judgements.

    Thirdly, while I appreciate there are issues about taxation revenues going abroad, and local control of infrastructure etc., I think a party that claims to be internationalist needs to be a bit careful about implying there’s something wrong with foreigners owning something.

  • @ Joe Bourke. I don’t take the Guardian article to mean Ken was autocratic, Joseph.

    I take it to mean he was pretty good at what he did…….. but then, as in so many spheres, things often look very different in the North of England and in Scotland to the way they do in the South East corner of England.

  • David Raw,

    things may well look very different in the North of England and in Scotland to the way they do in the South East corner of England, but it is not so different in reality.
    Ken Morrison was no different than Jack Cohen who joined his father’s grocery business in WhiteChapel London. Morrison’s supermarket business model was much the same as Tesco’s- pile em high and sell em cheap(as Cohen used to say). Supermarkets grew by killing off competition from local grocery stores with lower fixed costs, minimum wages and volume discounts on produce from growers. That’s capitalism. No doubt both men would have garnered the respect of that old Liberal, Richard Cobden, who’s statue sits in pride of place in Bradford’s Wool exchange watched over by portraits of such luminaries as Sir Titus Salt, Stephenson, Watt, Arkwright, Jacquard, Gladstone, Palmerston and the seafarers Raleigh, Drake, Columbus, Cook and Anson.

  • Many moons ago I worked in Bradford. A colleague was a member of the Morrison family.
    A very nice person. That is my subjective view.
    As a result I always shop at Morrisons when in the area of one their stores. No problems with quality, service and “would walk a million miles for one of” their basic breakfasts”, they are great!

  • If Ken Morrison was a dictator he was certainly a benevolent one. His prejudices were always transparent (Yorkshire folk might describe that differently). I live down the road from one of the flagship stores, actually located in the ward I represent on Bradford Council. My impression is that local people appreciated his hands-on approach as we passed him on an unexpected visit looking at the shelves and talking to staff.

  • @ Joe Bourke. You forgot to mention the Wool Exchange now has a branch of Waterstones in it, there is a statue of Titus Salt in Lister Park, where, for a short time many moons ago Tony Greaves and I had to go cross country running at Bradford Grammar School…… but many thanks for telling me about Bradford.

  • Barry Lofty 9th Oct '21 - 1:21pm

    A bit late on this theme but as a former member of a family business , bakery, grocery etc etc we spent most of our working lives looking over our shoulder at the ever expanding grip of the multiples aided and abetted by different governments and councils eager to take handouts from them in order to build roads or other schemes but such is the way of life and we were very successful at it for nearly 100 years as a family and people found us pretty useful in the many critical moments over that time until the stress finally took its inevitable toll. I suppose might is right in the end but I loved beating the odds for many years and I enjoyed the challenge!!

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