Northern Retail & Consumer Dinner with Allan Leighton, Chairman of Co-op Group

Northern Retail & Consumer Dinner with Allan Leighton, Chairman of Co-op Group Author: Alka Gandhi Published: 11 June 2018

We were delighted to welcome Allan Leighton, Chairman of Co-op Group, as our guest speaker at the Annual Northern Retail & Consumer Dinner in Manchester last week. The event was once again attended by numerous senior leaders from across the industry.

Allan began his career with Mars where he progressed quickly before moving to Asda where he was eventually appointed CEO in 1996. Since departing Asda, Allan has held numerous Executive and Non-Executive positions in organisations such as Matalan, Pandora, BskyB, Wagamama & Royal Mail.

Allan spoke openly and honestly about a number of areas that he is clearly passionate about including leadership and start-ups. Very early on in his career Allan learnt that as a leader getting people and product right were the two most important things for success.

During his talk he highlighted that too much focus has been placed on ‘leadership’. The dynamics of the commercial world have changed and as such leaders need to change; leadership styles have become somewhat mechanical, relating perhaps to the fact that leaders still think of leadership in the traditional sense.

Allan discussed how the focus needs to be about “followship rather than leadership”, essentially covering 5 points:

  • Talk with people, not at people
  • Listen to hear, rather than to respond
  • Respect is given and not earnt
  • Reduce waste – whether time, money, energy, resources – this requires a shift of mind-set
  • Create a unique culture for your business - develop your own language, values etc. that link everyone to the same purpose of being.  The key message here was that you cannot copy a culture – you can’t see culture you can only be part of it! 

Allan also shared his experiences of working with start-ups and how much can be learned from these businesses. We all accept that the retail world is changing and agility of leadership is essential for survival and success. Entrepreneurs have a willingness to experiment, adopting a philosophy around ‘fail fast and fix faster’. Bigger firms should learn from these businesses, acting and thinking in real time to react and adapt to market changes.

As the evening ended it became clear that ‘followship’ is the future and unique businesses will continue to be a key part in the development of the sector.

We would like to thank Allan for his insightful and thought provoking talk and all who attended for making the evening a great success.

Alka Gandhi is the Head of Retail at Berwick Partners.

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