Sir Terry Leahy - ‘You won’t hold back the desire for a better life, but you can reframe what that means’
It is striking, when listening to Sir Terry speak at a Tortoise Media event in early March, how deeply he has reflected on what consumers want out of their lives, and how these broader human desires can be reflected in the commercial offering of a business. As evidenced by his own life’s trajectory, Leahy understands aspiration more than many of his management peers. Leahy’s driving of the “Tesco’s Finest” range, for example, is credited with introducing luxury into the value-orientated offering of the company, and played a pivotal role in empowering consumers to shop on a budget and incorporate elements of extravagance into their buying habits.
On the issue of sustainability and environmental consciousness, Sir Terry does not believe an uncompromising “consume less” approach will work. From interacting with customers across Britain and the world, Leahy has learnt that the “universal desire for a better life is hardwired, but what’s changed is the way that progress is defined. You won’t hold back the desire for a better life, but you can reframe what that means”.
Ultimately, consumers will always be guided by a desire for personal and familial betterment, and environmental responsibility will be achieved best when it can be aligned with success and aspiration. The former Tesco leaders argued that, though consumers are becoming more interested in issues of sustainability, their bottom-line appreciation of value will always - and especially in times of economic hardship - come first.
With that in mind, brands must make “green” desirable, and build association with ideas of success and premium, rather than presenting environmentally friendly products as an ethical compromise. Similarly, in the board room, Leahy’s famous preoccupation with efficiency can help improve the sustainability profile of major companies – waste and irresponsible sourcing loses money in the long run.
Sir Terry has a prominent and credible voice with which to spread this message over the coming years, and as the country recovers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be interesting to see how the message of this vital need for change resonates with brands and businesses alike.