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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Profile: Tesco chief Sir Terry Leahy
By Jorn Madslien
BBC News business reporter

Sir Terry Leahy
Sir Terry is not impressed by the trappings of the rich

Tesco's chief executive Sir Terry Leahy is so ordinary, it makes him extraordinary among his peers.

Unlike many other captains of industry, the 49-year-old does not have a chauffeur driven car, he does not sit on other companies' boards, and he shuns networking in favour of talking to staff and customers on the shopfloor.

To Sir Terry, the mantra of all businesses - that the customer must come first - appears to be more of a religion than a rule.

Every Friday, he walks the floor of one of his stores, and he is also a regular visitor to those owned by the competition.

He takes pride in knowing what different jobs entail and what consumers buy, and he is forever keen to hear what people want.

Moving to London

Sir Terry, who was knighted in 2002, is less keen to talk about himself, however - except in the context of Tesco's business, which has grown under his stewardship to become the third largest grocer in the world after Wal-Mart of the US and Carrefour of France.

Tesco controls about a quarter of the UK grocery market
One in eight pounds spent with a UK retailer ends up in Sir Terry's coffers
Tesco's international expansion has resulted in a portfolio of 2,300 stores in 12 countries worldwide, in markets such as Ireland, Eastern Europe and Asia
New market segments are reached through a non-food offering that ranges from clothes and DVDs to holidays and financial services

"The only personality I believe in is Tesco," he says, according to the magazine Management Today.

But despite being intensely private, Sir Terry likes to point to his background as a man of the people, almost as an inverted form of snobbery.

Sir Terry grew up in Liverpool, the third of four brothers and the son of a greyhound trainer who worked as caretaker on the council owned farm where they lived.

As the only one of the brothers to get an education, Sir Terry went to grammar school - St Edward's College in West Derby - before gaining a business science degree from Manchester University.

After university, he worked for the Co-op for a year-and-a-half, then quit to move to London with Alison, now his wife.

Rapid promotions

It was in London where he first joined Tesco, initially as a casual worker stacking shelves, though he soon joined the marketing department, aged 23.

Sir Terry Leahy
Under Sir Terry, Tesco has branched out into non-food markets

Before he turned 30, he had become Tesco's marketing director at a time when it was little more than a troubled supermarket chain struggling to keep up with Sainsbury's.

Eight years later, in 1992, he was appointed to Tesco's board of directors, and by the time he was 40, in 1997, he had worked his way up to become chief executive.

By then he had helped turn things around, having spotted Tesco's fundamental flaw, namely its long-standing desire to copy Sainsbury's.

Not easily impressed

During the early years of his carreer, Sir Terry became obsessed with all things Tesco.

The obsession has lasted, but he has replaced his formerly aggressive management style with an impassioned and some say humourless directness.

His friends insist that behind the tough guy exterior, there is a deadpan Liverpudlian humour.

His detractors, on the other hand, believe Sir Terry is incapable of small talk and describe him as dour, even dull.

It is easy to believe that the feeling is mutual.

Sir Terry is the sort of man who feels more at home discussing football in a Liverpool pub than among London's glitzy set, and this is the root to his rapport with Tesco's customers and staff.

"Coming from Liverpool hasn't given him airs and graces, and it has equipped him to ignore them in others," observes Management Today.

And the city loves him for it. The year before he was knighted, Sir Terry received the Freedom of the City of Liverpool which entitles him, amongst other things, to herd his sheep across the city without being arrested.

Special adviser

Sir Terry's down-to-earth approach to life is reflected everywhere in the way he runs the business.

Unlike some competitors, Tesco's headquarters on an industrial estate in Hertfordshire are devoid of anything lavish.

His private life is also remarkably unglamorous. Sir Terry likes to spend time with his wife, a medical doctor, and their three teenage children.

His other love is football and he still supports Everton, which last year appointed him as a special adviser.

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