The departure of Mark Price from Waitrose is a surprise, more for its timing than anything else. He has been outstanding in his leadership of Waitrose during what has been the most challenging time in food retail for decades. He stood out years before then in various roles across most areas of the Partnership as he rose through the ranks. He has often been outspoken and has certainly been one of the more clear-sighted industry leaders as the economics of UK food retail have been transformed.
Like most careers, Mark’s is a series of “could have beens”. He could have landed at M&S as head of its food business, when Stuart Rose instead appointed Steven Esom – Mark would certainly have been a very strong candidate to succeed Rose as CEO there. He could have succeeded Stuart Hampson as Chairman of the Partnership, although Waitrose would have missed out on his transformational leadership. He could have landed as CEO of Morrisons. M&S and Morrisons would both certainly be in better places today had Mark gone to either.
He leaves Waitrose in good shape. Performance is under huge pressure because like every other retailer of food in the UK, the fundamental economics of the market are changing and virtually no one is making the money they were. Nevertheless, in his 10 years at the helm he has grown sales by 76%, adding around £2.4bn of revenues.
This is without doubt the most challenging time in modern retail history. Leadership is far too focused on the rear view mirror and needs to be looking forward. Mark is very good at that and the industry will be poorer for his departure.
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