Management book signing is sometimes a bit like disco dancing. Middle aged men don’t feel comfortable doing it – at least at first. Last night I asked Sir Terry Leahy, who stepped down as CEO of Tesco last year, to sign a copy of his new book. It was at the end of an excellent evening and the only point where his expression looked just a little bemused. I know, from my own book signings, that it is a strangely humbling and gracious personal interaction in our modern, low etiquette fast moving business world.
The occasion was a small stage event at the Institute of Directors in London where Terry Leahy was interviewed by IoD COO Andrew Main Wilson about his new book: Management in 10 Words and took questions from the audience. Leahy is undoubtedly one of the most successful Fortune global 100 mature-company CEOs of the last 20 years. Here are a few of his quotes and answers that I think you may find interesting.
On the lack of a major online-only grocery and who might one day get it right:
“I think Amazon will be the Amazon of food”
On UK retail:
“The UK is the biggest e-commerce market in the world in terms of population”
Advice on the best way to start a new retail business today:
“Really you should start online. It’s easier to start, easier to expand … and easier to go international”
(its interesting that after 20 years of the web we still have physical bank branches and some new banks are building new branches) “bank branches give presence to the brand”.
( This answer all the more interesting becuase Tesco is extending from supermarket grocery into banking)
On the information explosion:
“It is still to be proven whether organisations can cope with the mountains of data, to truly tailor what they offer the customer”
( Fascinating - from a leader who is famous for building his business on the massive ‘Clubcard’ customer database)
On Tesco’s massive real estate portfolio, and whether he would take that strategy path again:
“Obviously the balance of future investment will shift towards IT systems and the Internet”
My question was about innovation. I asked why Innovation (or similar) was not one of the ten key words he chose to head each chapter of his book, despite innovation very obviously being key to success in his time leading Tesco and a word frequently mentioned in the text. He pointed out that others of his key words like Truth and Courage are what lead to bold innovation. But he also admitted that he wanted to contribute something original when compared to all the management books out there. I took that to mean, everso politely, that there’s already too much written about innovation. He’s probably right about that. Recently, my colleague Jackie Fenn and I have been hotly debating where Innovation Management, as an overt discipline, stands on the hype cycle. She’s taking a more negative outlook – Sir Terry’s response made think perhaps she’s right.