In a surprise move, Morrisons has appointed the former CEO of Carrefour France, Rami Baitéh, as its next CEO. He will take over from the widely respected David Potts when he steps down from leading the retailer after nine years in November 2023. In many ways, the challenge facing Baitiéh is similar to that which Potts faced when he joined the business from Tesco, with a profound change in the retailer’s financial position necessitating a shift in approach.

Before stepping down from the top job at Carrefour France in August 2023, Baitiéh held a strong of senior roles at Carrefour, the world’s largest retailer after Walmart, in a career stretching back to his graduation in the early 1990s. Prior to leading Carrefour’s core operations in France, he gained extensive international experience from heading Carrefour’s operations in Spain, Argentina and Taiwan. His strengths lie in delivering turnaround plans, format development, launching online operations and leading operating improvements. He is also a strong advocate of putting the customer at the heart of strategy, so that it is always aligned with changing customer preferences. At Carrefour, he championed the “555 matrix,” – five commitments in the three vital focus areas of trust, service and experience.

Thinking like this could be just what Morrisons needs to restore its fortunes as Baitiéh transitions from Paris to Bradford. Two years on from its takeover by private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice, the retailer remains saddled with £6.6bn of debts and recently suffered the ignominy of dropping out of the Big Four. While today’s quarterly update suggests some improvement in trading, Morrisons remains squeezed by the expansion of discounters and lacks the financial firepower to invest sufficiently in stores, operations and prices.  

Despite these challenges, Morrisons retains many assets with which Baitiéh can juggle. Its vertically integrated operating model is a key point of difference from competitors, supporting its Market Street produce-led format, while its in-store cafes are important footfall drivers. While it was late finding its feet with multichannel retailing, by partnering with Ocado and Amazon, it has made up for lost time. Its acquisition of McColl’s in 2022 accelerated its expansion into convenience, and Baitiéh will no doubt bring fresh ideas to the table from Carrefour’s prowess in this channel.  Morrisons has also shown imagination lately on sustainability focus, with the 2022 opening of a new eco-store in Essex, again an area that Carrefour has championed. And while Morrisons has struggled to develop an engaging loyalty scheme, the relaunch of More shows promise on which Baitiéh could build further.

Baitiéh will want to make the most of his handover period to learn from Potts before he departs and understand Morrisons’ unique culture, to ensure he can take its strengths forward. While Morrisons faces challenges in the months and years ahead, it has a solid strategy, clear positioning and a customer following that put it in a much better position than when Potts took over from his predecessor, Dalton Philips.

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