David Potts has done an outstanding job in reviving the fortunes of Morrisons after the supermarket lost its way during the Dalton Phillips era.
A duo of appointments confirmed this week demonstrate the confidence Potts now has in an executive team that was considered flabby and ineffective when he first joined backed in 2015.
Current group finance director Trevor Strain has been promoted to the position of chief operating officer and will be replaced in February by Michael Gleeson who is stepping up from his trading director role.
Both men are being rewarded for their part in delivering Morrisons’ turnaround which has been built on a return to retail basics and a renewed focus on the customer.
Strain, in particular, should reflect on his pivotal role in the retailer’s recovery with satisfaction having experienced at first hand the gradual decline under Pott’s predecessor Phillips, and having stepped into the CEO’s chair in the brief period between Phillips’s departure from the business and Potts’s arrival.
Potts famously axed half of the Morrisons executive team within a few weeks of his arrival in the spring of 2015. The fact that both Strain and Gleeson were survivors of the cull show the regard in which they are held.
Back then, Morrisons chairman Andrew Higginson made a point of saying that Pott’s skills were complementary to those of his finance chief Strain and that opinion has been vindicated in the years since.
The promotions also strengthen the former-Tesco axis at the heart of Morrisons’ senior leadership team. Potts spent a long and distinguished career at Tesco during which period both Strain and Gleeson held a variety of senior finance roles.
Almost five years into his tenure as CEO, Potts has assembled an extremely competent team and the latest promotions support his view that the supermarket has strong management development plans in place.
That’s not to suggest that Potts will be getting carried away. Morrisons recently recorded its first decline in retail like-for-like sales after 14 quarters of consecutive growth, and its boss knows as well as anyone that grocery retailers that rest on their laurels quickly get left behind.
Trading has been somewhat tougher of late over at Sainsbury’s which is why the return of Rhian Bartlett will provide a much-needed boost.
Bartlett has assumed the role of director of fresh food having previously worked as business unit director for grocery non-food.
She left in 2014 to become senior director of UK trading at eBay and more recently has worked as commercial director at Screwfix, but the lure of a return to Holborn has ultimately proved too strong.
Dynamic and incredibly smart, Bartlett is one of the most impressive trading directors around and her return provides some welcome festive cheer for Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe as the supermarket enters the most important trading period of the year.