On the outside, I was preternaturally calm, positing questions to the elegant man next to me with enthusiastic precision. On the inside, I was like the fake spy in “True Lies” who wets his pants as Arnold Schwarzenegger interrogates him. I mean, seriously: When was the last time you had the chance to do an on-camera interview with a British knight?
My opportunity came courtesy of IBM at their Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Nashville last week. I was there as one of several VIP Influencers and given the opportunity to interview four of the speakers, including IBM GM Craig Hayman, authors Peter Shankman and Porter Gale and the former CEO of Tesco, Terry Leahy -- make that… Sir Terry Leahy. Yessirree -- he’s a friggin’ knight of the realm! But I digress….
The point of this story is not to show that I’m an obvious sucker for British nobility, but rather to share with you our enlightening conversation based on Sir Terry's new book, Management in Ten Words. And since our interview was under fifteen minutes, I’m only prepared to cover the five words that I believe are fit not just for a knight but any aspiring marketer.
Loyalty: Although Sir Terry's book doesn't start here, I will, since this is the word that propelled Tesco to become the dominant retailer in England and a major player around the world. Launched in 1995, when “computing power finally made it possible to do what we wanted to do,” the Tesco Clubcard provided an immediate boost to sales and vaulted Leahy's career. And it all started with the desire simply to say thank you to customers “regardless of how much they spent.
Courage: Launching the Clubcard seems like a no-brainer today, but at the time it took tremendous courage. Sir Terry faced many naysayers during the planning stages since the program risked 25% of Tesco's profits and its success was in no way assured. But once launched, the Clubcard was transformative, refocusing the entire organization. “We made loyalty and data insight absolutely central to everything we did,” explains the thusly-courageous knight.
Compete: “My strongest competition are the best management consultants there are,” Sir Terry asserts in his book, and consequently, he has studied them like a dogged warrior. However, when we were talking about how monitoring the competition can lead to copycat behavior, he revealed, “It wasn't until I stopped trying to follow the competition that I beat them.”
Values: Chivalry was, of course, built on a set of core values, so it should be no surprise that Sir Terry did much the same as the CEO of Tesco. What is surprising is that these values are short and sweet, arising from thousands of interviews with Tesco employees that he describes as “the easy part.” “The hard part was living them,” he notes in the book, an effort that took him around the world for “town meetings” with 10,000 or so managers over a 14-year period!
Simple: Anyone who has ever tried to make ideas, products or processes simple knows that simple is hard. Sir Terry explains that simple is particularly hard for a large organization but even more important. As he so eloquently puts it in his book, “Simplicity is the knife that cuts through the tangled spaghetti of life's problems.” Both the Clubcard and Tesco’s values reflect Sir Terry's commitment to taking the complexity out of business challenges.
Final note: Even with the camera off, Sir Terry Leahy couldn’t have been more down-to-earth and personable. Turns out, he came from humble beginnings and has no intention now of lording anything over anyone, knighthood or otherwise, making him a knight to remember. To see my gallant interview with Sir Terry, please click here.