Leahy’s Leadership Lessons

Fascinating insights on leadership from a recent Marketing Society talk by Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco, as reported in Marketing. The numbers on his 14 years at the top speak for themselves:

Stores: from 568 in UK to 2482 in the UK, and 2500 abroad

Pre-tax profit: from £750mill to £3.5bill

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Here are a four nuggets from his talk.

1. Find the truth

Sir Terry shares our view that insight comes from using multiple sources, not just research: "Research is like going into a dark room with a torch. All you see is what the beam lights up; you don't see the whole picture".

He also uses the same term as us, "cosumer empathy", to describe the deeper understanding that comes from using your gut and emotions, not just rational analysis. He says, "Always look around, at customers, their lives, their problems, fears and hopes. Out of that empathy, the truth emerges".

One way Sir Terry ensured his senior team stay close to real consumers is TWIST (Together working in store): every manager spends a week a year working in a store.

2. Think big

Great comment on the need to be big and bold in your ideas: "We're not on earth to make little plans. If you are going to do something as a marketer, make sure the world notices it. Don't let the right idea be diminished through a management process".

Sir Terry quotes the example of Tesco Clubcard, which he suggests would not have been luanched if it had gone through a normal budget process. How did he do it? He employed another principle we ecourage teams to use: test the idea for real. As he explains, "We secretly trialled it and customers loved it. Knowing the idea was right got us pushing it through the business."

3. Take risks

Linked to the last point on bold ideas is taking calculated risks. I love his quote on this: "All the things I'm most proud of would have got me fired if they turned out differently". He adds a couple of good conditions on this though. First, be true to your values. Second, don't bet the whole company, which ties into the earlier idea of testing your ideas in the real world first.

A real-life example is when as a 24 year old marketer he launched a range of simple, afforable products called "generics". He put on a big display, but the MD at the time, Ian MacLaurin, said "take all the junk out, we're moving upmarket". But Sir Terry persisted, telling management consumers needed the range. It went on to be the Tesco Value line,

4. Act

Sir Terry is right when he says "You may have an ambitious vision, but all that amounts to nothing if you don't act". Often teams get bogged down in "polishing the pyramid": tweaking words on their brand positioning tool. We try to inspire and encourage teams to get the vision 80% right, then move into action.

In conclusion, to follow Leahy's leadership lessons we should use consumer empathy as fuel to create big brand ideas that we test in the real world and then execute with courage.