Sir Ken Morrison’s old company called its former boss “inspirational”, following his death at 85.
A statement from the supermarket, headed by chief executive David Potts, said: “Sir Ken was an inspirational retailer who led Morrisons for more than half a century, transforming the company from a small family business into the UK’s fourth largest food retailer.
“Sir Ken will be greatly missed by many thousands of his current and former colleagues, a large number of whom became close personal friends over the years.”
Sir Ken was awarded a CBE in 1990 and knighted in the millennium New Year Honours list for his services to the food retailing industry.
Andrew Higginson, chairman of Morrisons, said: “I know that I speak for the whole company when I say how profoundly sad we were to hear of Sir Ken’s death.
“He was an inspirational leader and the driving force behind Morrisons for over half a century. Although he retired several years ago, his legacy is evident every day and in every aspect of our business.
“Taking Morrisons from a small Bradford-based family business to a major UK grocery retailing chain is an outstanding achievement in the history of UK business.
“On a personal level, Ken was an enormous help to me as we made some significant changes to set the business on a new course. His knowledge of retail and his strategic insights have remained as relevant and intuitive as they were when he first built the business.
“Ken will be remembered by us all for his leadership, his passion for retailing and for his great love of Morrisons. To honour his memory in the most appropriate way we can, we will continue to develop the company that he built and loved.
“We will miss his friendship and his wise counsel very deeply, and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”
Just over a year ago, Sir Ken bought a hefty stake in rival Sainsbury’s. The news came to light on the day that Morrisons was relegated from the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE 100 index following falling sales, profits and market share.
Sir Ken and his son William acquired 4.7 million shares in Sainsbury’s, giving them a £12m stake in the firm.
Speaking about the Sainsbury’s share purchase, Sir Ken said: “It is a well-run company.”
Today, Sainsbury’s chief executive, Mike Coupe, said: “This is very sad news. Ken was one of the true greats of the retail industry - he built Morrisons from a couple of market stalls in West Yorkshire to one of the biggest supermarkets in the UK. And he always called a spade a spade. He will be very much missed.”
Asda chief executive Sean Clarke added: “Sir Ken was a giant of our industry, a fellow Yorkshireman and a retail leader who everyone at Asda has huge respect for. Today, we send our condolences to his friends, family and colleagues.”
Veteran retail analyst Clive Black, of Shore Capital, also paid glowing tribute to Sir Ken.
He said: “His story is one of remarkable achievement, taking a small family business in West Yorkshire to become a national grocery institution.
“Without Sir Ken many hundreds of thousands of British families and businesses would not have had their working and commercial livelihoods; many folks will be thankful to him this day.
“His character, with its lovely quirkiness and idiosyncrasy, is written large in the Morrison business today; traits that we are pleased to see the current CEO, David Potts CBE, keep alive and kicking.
“Sir Ken had a great empathy with shoppers, unwavering high standards, a huge retailing imagination, a naughty sense of humour and just a proper way of doing things that many will say is sadly too lacking these days.
“His passing is an immense loss to an industry and a country, in fact, for which few are held in higher regard.”
The British Retail Consortium hailed his legacy, saying: “The passing of one of retail’s greats is sad news.
“Undoubtedly, Sir Ken was, and will continue to be an inspiration to industry colleagues and will be remembered for his drive and ambition, alongside a legacy of transforming a small family-run firm into today’s modern business.”
Simon Hinchliffe, head teacher at Bradford Grammar School where Sir Ken was a former pupil, said: “Sir Ken was an inspirational figure, a Yorkshireman of great integrity, humanity and a model of honest good sense.
“More than anyone Sir Ken embodied our motto, Hoc Age, to get on and do it.
“He will be sorely missed and our thoughts are with his wife Lady Morrison, who is the chairman of governors at Bradford Grammar School, his children and family.”