Morrisons boss can leave with head held high and release the hand tied behind his back

It is tempting to invest what David Potts, whose departure as Morrisons chief government was introduced as we speak, might need achieved within the function had the grocery store not been acquired by personal fairness house owners on the finish of 2021.

The £7bn takeover by Clayton Dubilier & Rice (CDR) loaded Morrisons with debt – taking its whole borrowings to £6.6bn.

That left Morrisons preventing in probably the most aggressive grocery markets on this planet with one hand tied behind its again.

During the primary full yr after the takeover, Morrisons – which had made a revenue of £201m within the final yr earlier than the deal – plunged to a lack of £1.5bn, dragged down by curiosity funds totalling £400m.

That was cash which might have been invested in worth cuts at a time when the 2 privately-owned German discounters, Aldi and Lidl, stepped up their assault on the UK market.

With no exterior shareholders to fulfill, the pair have been capable of plough thousands and thousands into their UK growth, slicing costs aggressively to such an extent that Lidl has simply reported a pre-tax lack of £76m for the yr to the top of February regardless of cranking up gross sales by 19% to £9.3bn.

It is, arguably, the important thing cause why Aldi has leapfrogged Morrisons to take the quantity 4 place within the UK market.

If it bothered Mr Potts, who left faculty at 16 and whose retailing profession started engaged on the Tesco deli counter in his native Ashton-under-Lyne, he was too well mannered to say so.

David Potts will depart Morrisons after 9 years on the helm

That could also be as a result of the CDR bid was overseen by his mentor, the previous Tesco chief government Sir Terry Leahy, who promoted him to run the grocery store’s Asian enterprise in 2009.

But there may be little doubt that working with such a debt burden has handicapped Morrisons.

That mentioned, the quietly-spoken Mr Potts deserves to be remembered as one of many UK grocery business’s foremost figures of current instances.

Having been talent-spotted by Sir Terry’s predecessor Ian (now Lord) MacLaurin, he discovered to deal with accountability at an early age, rising by way of Tesco’s ranks to the purpose the place he was extensively seen as one of many contenders to succeed Sir Terry when he left Tesco in 2011.

Mr Potts himself moved on quickly afterwards nevertheless it was no shock when, in February 2015, he was approached by the Morrisons chairman Andrew Higginson, a former chief monetary officer at Tesco, to turn out to be chief government on the Bradford-based firm.

The enterprise was in a foul manner on the time. It had no presence in comfort, the fastest-growing a part of the market on the time, no loyalty programme to talk of and was tied right into a restrictive on-line partnership with Ocado, whereas Aldi and Lidl have been already beginning to gnaw away at its market share.

Mr Potts, a lifelong supporter of Manchester City, launched into a turnaround after which navigated the enterprise by way of the turmoil of the Brexit vote after which the pandemic. He additionally took Morrisons into comfort with the acquisition of McColls and expanded its loyalty programmes and digital presence.

That was attaining outcomes: Morrisons was capable of report as we speak 5 consecutive quarters throughout which like-for-like gross sales have risen.

So the inheritance he bequeaths to his successor will probably be a very good one – albeit one that will have been stronger had Morrisons not been loaded with additional money owed.

That successor, Rami Baitiéh, comes with a formidable popularity of his personal.

Rami Baitiéh will join Morrisons from Carrefour in November. Pic: Morrisons
Rami Baitiéh will be a part of Morrisons from Carrefour in November. Pic: Morrisons

Having joined Carrefour, the French grocery big, in 1995 he ascended the ranks to tackle the function of chief government of the corporate in June 2020 in its house and most essential market – a market much more concentrated than that of the UK.

With the French grocery multiples having come beneath fireplace from Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, in current months for not having executed extra to bear down on inflation, he’s used to working in a politicised surroundings.

He can also be used to duelling with Aldi and Lidl, each of that are beginning to make the identical inroads into the French grocery market that they did within the UK a decade in the past – though in France it’s Lidl, not Aldi, which has had the extra aggressive opening programme.

Seeing off the specter of the discounters will probably be a key precedence for Mr Baitiéh and it’s instructive that the Morrisons board has plumped for somebody with that have to succeed Mr Potts.

He may also be anticipated to construct on the work executed by Mr Potts, mainly in comfort, digital and loyalty.

Unlike Mr Potts, who needed to put up with greater than his fair proportion of dangerous luck, it might be that Mr Baitiéh is taking on when the tide is popping for Morrisons.

Not solely are its gross sales starting to enhance, there may be additionally confidence at Morrisons that client traits could transfer again in its favour. Aldi and Lidl have thrived throughout a price of dwelling disaster wherein worth is every part.

But there may be rising optimism in Bradford that, as inflation begins to ease, the dialog within the grocery business will finally change again to high quality and provenance.

Aldi and Lidl have managed to construct up a robust following amongst new clients throughout the previous few years however one huge benefit that the normal ‘huge 4’ – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – have over them is a far wider assortment of things and contours – inventory protecting items, or SKUs, within the business jargon.

They are hoping that, as soon as the price of dwelling disaster subsides, clients will once more begin to search for extra alternative.

Morrisons, with its sturdy popularity in recent meals and for producing its personal meat and fish produce, will hope that such a change in client psychology will play to its strengths.

But Mr Baitiéh definitely has a tricky act to observe.