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taking stock of business in 2017 with sir terry leahy

“The foundation for every successful and fair society is enterprise and a strong wealth-creating economy,” Sir Terry Leahy told Michael Hayman last night on London Live’s Capital Conversation.

The former Tesco boss said business has to make a better case for itself in an age when political parties are failing to do so. Recalling the 2017 General Election he said: “[The parties] were almost falling over themselves to be the voice criticising business. I think that’s a real concern… somehow they think an angry voter wants to see more state and less business.”

Under Sir Terry’s leadership, Tesco became third-largest retailer in the world measured by revenues and as chair of B&M he led the group’s stock market flotation in 2014. Its market valuation has grown by around £1bn to £3.8bn in the last three years.

A competitive spirt, says Sir Terry, is key to business success. “You have to be competitive. You have to want to win. Obviously, that means win fairly and make sure others participate in the victory.” Turning his attention to Brexit, he added, “In a way that’s the message for the UK. Not to become overwhelmed by the political negotiations around Brexit but look beyond that and work out what we need to do to be the best place to do business in the world.”

With UK supermarkets struggling to keep up with low-cost competitors, Leahy pointed to a need for change. “They have to keep on innovating, you cannot stay the same. If they do innovate in a contemporary way and make themselves relevant to customers then they’ll be rewarded for it.”

Much of that innovation is likely to come from introducing more technology into the weekly shop. “No one could appreciate the extent to which digital would transform retail,” he said. “After the first disruption, traditional retailers learn some of the skills and the potential of the digital economy and bring it into the business. I think that’s a good thing for consumers because they’ll get a better experience from retailers.”

He pointed to Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods as an indicator of where the future of supermarkets might lie: “The acquisition signals the way forward may be multi-channel retailing – the right combination of traditional stores and online.”

With 2017 coming to a close, Michael asked for Sir Terry’s take on what next for the UK. “I hope 2018 will signal the start of an upturn in the UK,” he said. “But for that to happen we need more clarity around Brexit negotiations and we need an ambitious plan laid out for the future of Britain beyond those negotiations.”

Watch the full episode here. The Capital Conversation returns in 2018.

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