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Boots lifer with ‘solid pedigree’ to take helm at Britain’s biggest supermarket

Ken Murphy rose through the ranks to become chief commercial officer and president of global brands at Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Former Boots “lifer” Ken Murphy has been charged with taking the reins at Britain’s biggest supermarket, but little is known about the man who will take on one of the most prestigious roles in retail. (Tesco/PA)
Former Boots “lifer” Ken Murphy has been charged with taking the reins at Britain’s biggest supermarket, but little is known about the man who will take on one of the most prestigious roles in retail. (Tesco/PA)

By Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor

Former Boots “lifer” Ken Murphy has been charged with taking the reins at Britain’s biggest supermarket, but little is known about the man who will take on one of the most prestigious roles in retail.

The 52-year-old Irishman rose through the ranks at Boots and held a raft of executive positions at the retailer and its owner before becoming chief commercial officer and president of global brands at parent Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Born in Cork, Mr Murphy secured a commerce degree in University College Cork before going on to study at Harvard Business School.

He moved to Boots through a position at Alliance Unichem, which merged with the high street health and beauty chain in 2006 – sparking a lengthy and successful career at the group.

Following a series of deals that eventually saw Boots become part of US giant Walgreens Boots Alliance, Mr Murphy ended up as an executive vice president, reporting directly into the group’s boss – Italian billionaire Stefano Pessina.

He stood down from the role in January, reportedly to move his family back to the UK.

But his appointment to replace Dave Lewis at the helm of Tesco on a £1.35 million salary has raised eyebrows in the City, given the many internal candidates and Mr Murphy’s relatively unknown profile in the UK grocery sector.

As Nick Bubb, independent retail analyst, said: “What Dave Lewis will do next is unclear, but the bigger question is why Tesco overlooked an array of internal candidates for the new chief executive position and have gone outside and appointed Ken Murphy from Boots (aka “Ken who?”) as the new Tesco boss.”

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, said Mr Murphy’s “solid pedigree” at Walgreens Boots would stand him in good stead.

Walgreens Boots has also been through heavy cost cutting amid pressure on earnings, which experts believe will give Mr Murphy valuable experience to take over to Tesco.

Mr Wilson added: “He’ll need to employ these skills at Tesco where he’ll have to contend with tougher organic comparisons post the Lewis era.

“Moreover the battle with the discounters is only just starting.”

Mr Murphy will take on a challenge at Tesco, which is battling against ever-slimmer profit margins and pressure from the likes of German rivals Aldi and Lidl.

His predecessor Mr Lewis has navigated these well and is set to leave Tesco next summer with a successful turnaround under his belt after joining the chain when it was in turmoil.

Retail expert Clive Black at Shore Capital said Mr Murphy has “big shoes to fill”, with the market left waiting for his “thoughts and plans” on heading up the UK retail titan.

PA

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