Supermarket giant Ken Morrison dies at 85

Sir Ken Morrison, who was instrumental in growing supermarket Morrisons into one of the UK's largest retailers, has died aged 85 following a short illness.

Thursday, 2nd February 2017, 8:50 am
Updated Thursday, 2nd February 2017, 8:51 am
Sir Ken Morrison has died, aged 85

Sir Ken ​wa​s one of Yorkshire’s richest men, and his family fortune is estimated at ​around ​1.6bn.

He was knighted in the New Year’s Honours List in 2001 and live​d​ in a magnificent French-style chateau in Myton-on-Swale, near Boroughbridge.

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Sir Ken Morrison has died, aged 85
Sir Ken Morrison has died, aged 85.

He left school at 18 and built up his father’s egg and butter market stalls.

When his father became ill, he returned from National Service in Germany to run the business rather than see it sold.

He was married and divorced as a young man and later remarried, but his second wife died of cancer.

Sir Ken was said to have been devastated by her death. His third wife is Lynne, a former lawyer who worked for the company’s legal advisers and who ​wa​s 30 years his junior.

Sir Ken Morrison has died, aged 85

He has five children, three of whom are grown-up, and two young children with Lynne, ​who became Lady Morrison.

A statement from his family said he died peacefully at home.

It read: “We are very sad to share the news that Sir Ken died today aged 85 following a short illness. He died peacefully at home in North Yorkshire with his family.

“Sir Ken was, of course, a unique figure in the history of grocery retailing in the UK, for more than half a century being the driving force at the heart of Morrisons as it grew from two market stalls to become one of the UK’s largest retailers.

Sir Ken Morrison has died, aged 85

“But to us he was a greatly committed and loving family man, as inspirational and central to us in our daily lives as he was in the business. His drive and ambition, quick intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge were matched with a real curiosity in his fellow man.

“He had a gentle humour and kindness about him and he could, and would, talk with genuine interest to anyone.

“He showed us all the importance of aiming high but never forgetting the practicalities of life and the humanity of those we deal with.

“A proud Yorkshireman, he never forgot his roots and had a real love for, and commitment to, the people and city of Bradford.

“We will all miss him enormously.

“There will be a private funeral for close family only. At a later date there will also be a public occasion to celebrate Sir Ken’s life.

Sir Ken Morrison has died, aged 85.

“In the meantime, we will make no further comment and ask that our privacy be respected at this very sad time.”

It was under Sir Ken’s leadership that Morrisons opened its first town-centre shop in 1958 and first supermarket in 1961, both in Bradford.

In 1967 he led the company on to the stock market in London in a share offer which was 174 times oversubscribed as more than 80,000 investors tried to buy a stake.

In the 1970s the firm bought Whelan Discount Stores from ex-Blackburn Rovers footballer Dave Whelan, and began trading in Lancashire for the first time. Morrisons began fresh food production in 1980 and opened a new distribution centre a few years later.

Expansion across the North of England continued and in 1998 Morrisons opened its first store in the South - in Erith, Kent - before opening its 100th store in its centenary year in 1999.

But it was not until the £3bn acquisition of the British arm of Safeway, completed in 2004, that Morrisons became a national presence.

The deal surprised the city, which had downgraded Morrisons from a safe bet to a “risk”, and some investors considered the transaction to have been mishandled.

They were proved right: it turned out that Safeway was in worse health than originally thought and integrating the two chains put a drain on profits.

In 2006 Morrisons announced its first loss in its history. Marc Bolland of Heineken was drafted in as chief executive and, following an intense advertising campaign, Morrisons moved back into profit.

Infamously, he described former Morrisons boss Dalton Philips’s strategy as “bulls***” in 2014, as the then-chief executive faced intense pressure amid sliding sales and a fierce supermarket price war.

After stepping back from the world of retail, Sir Ken concentrated on farming. He had more than 1,100 acres at Myton-on-Swale and ran around 1,000 cattle and a flock of Texel cross ewes. He was a president of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

Sir Ken Morrison has died, aged 85