Tesco chief executive and University of Liverpool alumnus, Philip Clarke, is interviewed in the University’s new digital magazine, Insight, and reveals how he went from stacking shelves in his local Tesco to becoming the retail giant’s chief executive plus the supermarket’s plans to expand its collaboration on University research. Retail Times, editor and fellow University of Liverpool alumnus, Fiona Briggs, provides an extract from the article, From twilight shift to chief executive
Philip Clarke (BA Hons Economic History 1981) started stacking shelves in his local Tesco branch in Childwall, aged 15, and the Saturday boy who is now the boss says he owes a lot of his success to his time at Liverpool, the article reveals.
“I was the first in my family to go to university,” says Clarke. “We were a typical working class family struggling to make ends meet, but my mother wanted her children to have greater opportunities than she did so all three of us ended up going to Liverpool.”
Clarke continued to work for Tesco throughout his studies. In 1981 he became the first graduate to enter Tesco’s management training scheme and within four years was managing the second largest store in the UK. Five years later, aged 30, he became a director, and by 38 he was on the Board.
“I’ve never had a break in my employment with Tesco, even during university, and I guess that makes me quite different to other students,” he tells Insight. “While my peers were out partying or getting involved in student politics, I was managing the 6-10pm twilight shift at Tesco in Childwall because I had to bring money into the family.”
According to Clarke, university was a means to an end. “I wanted to learn new skills and improve myself so the social side of student life really wasn’t that important to me,” he tells Insight.
Clarke’s connection with Liverpool continues today through the Tesco Dairy Centre of Excellence at Wood Park Dairy Farm, Leahurst, a collaboration between the retailer and the School of Veterinary Science, the magazine reveals. It offers expertise to Tesco farmers in cattle health and welfare in order to enhance the commercial benefits of their work.
Latest research at Wood Park, as part of the five-year partnership with Tesco, includes support for a trial vaccine for digital dermatitis in dairy cows, the testing of techniques to improve the comfort of cows, and developing a model to enable prediction of Liver Fluke disease likelihood, and guidance to farmers on how to prevent the disease, Insight reports.
“On a personal level I’m proud to be working with the University of Liverpool and helping to highlight the ground-breaking research being carried out at one of the UK’s great academic institutions,” Clarke tells Insight.
“As chief executive of the company that feeds more Britons than anyone else, I am excited about a collaboration that puts Tesco at the cutting edge of sustainable food production.
“I see the role of universities in the future as places where new ideas are developed and nurtured, and more businesses should be tapping into that huge resource,” he says.
And Clarke reveals Tesco is currently looking at ways of expanding its collaboration with the University.