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He is modest and unassuming. But to millions of British shoppers, not to mention grocery gurus around the globe, he is the supermarket boss with the Midas touch. And he is setting up shop in America.
Sir Terry Leahy, the most powerful figure in retailing in Great Britain, is finally coming to the United States to conquer what he calls the underinvested part of the American food retail market--the specialist convenience sector. The ultra-ambitious 51-year-old chief executive officer of the $84.9-billion Tesco Group, the world's third-largest supermarket firm by sales after Wal-Mart and Carrefour of France, will this month open for business in California, as the United States becomes the latest platform for his bid to dominate world food retailing.
The chain plans to open about 100 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada in coming months, with the first six slated to open their doors this month in Southern California.
The Tesco story is impressive by any standards. The chain has always followed the trading maxim of "piling it high and selling it cheap," and nowadays takes one in every eight sterling pounds spent by Britons on groceries. Thus it commands a UK market share of more than 30 percent--twice the size of its nearest competitor, the Wal-Mart-owned Asda superstore chain.
Leahy arrives in the United States with an excellent European business pedigree that has most recently seen him elevated to the elite group of industry bigwigs who sit as advisors to new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
And as the man behind the Tesco colossus, he is respected for his encyclopedic knowledge of the retail business, not just in Britain, but also across the world. That's a trait that already has helped him spread his wings around mainland Europe as well as the Far East.
A look back
But then Tesco's knack of coming up with the unexpected and introducing new in-store ideas long before their rivals, has been evident ever since the chain was founded nearly 80 years ago amid the street markets of London's working class East End.
Its originator, the late Sir John ("Jack") Cohen, is …