David Parkin on Leighton’s new Co-op Challenge, characters and claims to fame

IT is 15 years since Allan Leighton left Asda to take up a portfolio of non-executive roles and famously coined the phrase that he was “going plural”.
And over the last decade and a half he has displayed impressive judgement in picking the right roles and delivering value to his employers.
He led the turnaround of Saltaire TV set-top box maker Pace after it got itself into a mess, he left Royal Mail in a better state than he found it and dumped its ridiculous rebrand to Consignia in the bin and has had a clutch of other non-exec roles at jewellery group Pandora, Canadian retailer Loblaws, Lastminute.com, Cannons health clubs and house builder Wilson Connolly.
The only one that didn’t end well was Leeds United, where he was deputy chairman while chairman Peter Ridsdale was doing a trolley dash through the transfer market.
He’s clearly a bit sensitive about that one as he once put the squeeze on the then editor of the Yorkshire Post when I wrote a business commentary piece that was critical of him.
Now Leighton has a new challenge: he was appointed chairman of the Co-operative Group yesterday and will lead the mutual and banking group’s recovery.
As it’s first independent non-executive chair, Leighton has a lot to do.
The changes to its management structure were brought in following a review by Lord Myners last year in which he called the group “manifestly dysfunctional” and recommended a major shake-up.

The review came after the group reported a £2.5bn loss in 2013 and its banking arm almost collapsed.

So Leighton has plenty on his plate, but if there is one thing he is good at, it is timing.

Business involves talent, drive, some luck and also timing.

The Co-op is like a boxer that has been knocked down a few times.

Leighton is the trainer that can get his man back to the corner, spray some water on his face, slap him, inspire him, and send him out to win the fight.

He will figure that the Co-op has got all of its bad news out. It has hit rock bottom and now is in need of some strong, wise, focused leadership.

He’s already started with a PR success: he is donating his £250,000 a year salary to the Co-operative Foundation.

And now the work begins to improve an organisation that was voted the most ethical UK company of the last 25 years just after its former chairman Paul Flowers was convicted of possession of cocaine following a series of newspaper revelations about the after hours lifestyle of the former Methodist minister and Bradford councillor.

Under Leighton, I doubt Co-op board meetings will be as interesting, but I’m sure they will help deliver a better organisation.


A COUPLE of things that happened this week got me thinking.

And that doesn’t happen very often.

I was walking the dog in the local park one morning when a lady on a bicycle rode up behind me and said: “Toot, toot! Bike ahoy!”

My immediate reaction was to think: “Nutter”.

But that wasn’t the case. She had character and wasn’t afraid to show it.

Then I was served in a shop by a girl in her early 20s who had a stud in her nose and proceeded to show me where a particular product was while singing.

Normally the only people you see singing in public are commuters with headphones on or drunks.

We live in a society where everybody thinks they are an individual but end up conforming.

Often those with character, the ones who are real individuals, are frowned upon, we jump to the wrong conclusions about them – like I did above – purely because they dare to be different.

I’ve written before about people that work in creative agencies who think they are different but all end up wearing the same clothes, wearing the same horn-rimmed spectacles and growing the same beards (the men) and having the same tattooed arms.

You only have to browse through social media to see the plethora of pouty selfie photos uploaded by women who seem to think that if they push out their lips they will ape the Hollywood stars they so admire.

So let’s celebrate the characters in our society, there aren’t enough of them.

If I was writing for a national newspaper I’d call them national treasures.


I attended a really enjoyable dinner at Middlethorpe Hall hotel in York recently and the group round the table had never met each other before so we each had to briefly introduce ourselves.

I didn’t just want to give a sales pitch for my new business, so touched on my previous roles as a journalist and mentioned that I been the first British journalist to interview Arnold Schwarnzenegger when he became governor of California.

My neighbour at the table, a wealth manager, turned to me and said: “That’s a good claim to fame, mine was that I once threatened to punch Marc Almond.”

Apparently the former Soft Cell front man had been a pupil at the same school and been annoying a classmate.

After the dinner I dropped an email to my fellow diner with my details and to thank him for his company.

The reply came back: “My claim to fame now is that I know someone who interviewed Arnie”.

It doesn’t get better than that.

Have a great weekend.blm1211h-Business-Life-Allan-Leighton-a748753f-8bfd-4b25-8c7d-fcd04a405b38-0-450x521

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