Tributes paid following death of Sir Ken Morrison

Sir Ken Morrison, the man was instrumental in growing supermarket Morrisons into one of the UK's lar

Sir Ken Morrison, the man was instrumental in growing supermarket Morrisons into one of the UK's largest retailers, photographed in 2007. Photo: Ian Nicholson/PA Wire - Credit: PA

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

A statement from Sir Ken’s family said: “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, who was one of Yorkshire’s richest men, stood down as chairman of Morrisons in 2008. He joined Morrisons when he finished National Service in 1952, and four years later became chairman and managing director, although he relinquished the latter role in 1997.

His association with the company started before the Second World War, when, aged nine, he helped his father on his Bradford market stall.

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.

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.

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“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.”

Malcolm Walker, the chief executive of rival supermarket Iceland, was also among those to pay tribute.

“He was the nicest and kindest man I’ve ever met. He was very trustworthy, and a handshake was always good enough with Ken,” Mr Walker said.

Co-op Group chairman Allan Leighton said: “Sad news on the passing of Sir Ken Morrison. He was a great retailer, a great character and a great inspiration.”

Mike Coupe, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, 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 said: “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.”

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.”

In 1967, Sir Ken led Morrisons 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.

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.

Plain-speaking Sir Ken infamously described former Morrisons boss Dalton Philips’s strategy as “bullshit” in 2014, as the then-chief executive faced intense pressure amid sliding sales and a fierce supermarket price war.

His family’s statement said: “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.”