Skip to main content

Loblaw's Leighton takes on new job

The Co-operative in Britain hires Allan Leighton as its new chair

Former Loblaw president Allan Leighton has a new job that won’t earn him a penny.

Leighton on Thursday was named chairman of The Co-operative, Britain’s fifth largest grocery chain with 3,750 stores and yearly sales of £10 billion.

Though the job comes with a £250,000 annual salary, Leighton is donating all of his pay to The Co-operative Foundation, a charity for youth community involvement.

Leighton, 61, will take on the “the vital work of rebuilding the Co-operative,” according to a press statement from the company.

Like most of the U.K.’s homegrown grocery retailers, The Co-operative has seen its market share slide recently as it faces competition from Germany’s twin discounters Aldi and Lidl.

The Co-operative’s sales fell 2.7 per cent in the last quarter, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

Leighton was president of Loblaw from 2008 to 2011. That was a particularly turbulent time for Canada’s largest grocery chain as it dealt with a new competitor, Walmart’s Supercentres, and attempted to upgrade aging stores and tech systems. Leighton cut jobs and was known for his tough leadership style.

When he ran Loblaw, Leighton avoided interviews so was never as well known to Canadians as the man he was supposed to mentor, Loblaw’s current president, Galen Weston.

But in Britain, Leighton is a celebrity, rubbing elbows with the likes of Prince Charles.

His resume in the U.K. includes CEO of Asda, Britain’s second largest grocer, now a subsidiary of Walmart. He was also chairman of the Royal Mail.

Leighton becomes the first independent non-executive chair of The Co-operative under the company's recently reformed governance structure.

Millions of U.K. consumers who not only shop at The Co-operative’s stores, but are also owners of the co-op business, will no doubt closely watch Leighton’s handling of The Co-operative in the next few months.

But Leighton already has some history with the company. His father ran a Co-op store and Leighton admitted that was one reason he’s took the job.

played a big part in my life. And I’ve read all the headlines and I thought: ‘What would my dad be thinking?’ He would be saying: ‘You ought to do something,’ ” Leighton told the British trade magazine, The Grocer, this week.

Besides, he added, The Co-operative is “the underdog. I love underdogs.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds