CHRIS BLANCHETT, Chief Executive of East of England Co-op, has retired after a lifetime career in retailing, which started as a management trainee with Marks and Spencer in the late 60s, writes Miriam Harrup.
However, given his Co-op family background ? his orphaned father started work at the age of 15 as a grocery apprentice in the New Swindon Industrial Co-operative Society in 1928 – perhaps it was inevitable that he ended up joining the then Colchester and East Essex Society in 1991.
When he took over as Chief Executive in 1992, the Colchester Society was benefiting from the rapid expansion of the Fiveways supermarket chain. But while sales were good, heavy borrowings (and even heavier interest rates) were seriously eating into the profits – a situation that demanded change and triggered a set of key initiatives that forged the future.
In 1993 the Colchester Society was the first in the Movement to introduce magnetic strip cards to record and manage Dividend distribution. This was to prove to be the start of the loyalty card era and the Colchester Co-op launch even preceded Tesco's Clubcard.
This period of re-organisation also led to the creation of an investment property portfolio, starting with the almost total redevelopment of Long Wyre Street in Colchester. This was to prove a sound move and by the time of the society's merger with Ipswich & Norwich Co-op last year, to form East of England/Co-op, the value of tangible assets transferred had risen to just under £ 100 million.
John Holmes, President of the East of England Society, said: "Chris led the Colchester and new East of England societies through a period of great change and significant financial progress.
"He has contributed at the highest levels within the Co-operative Movement, not only as Chief Executive, but also as the society's representative on various external bodies including the Board of the Co-operative Group and we wish him a long and very happy retirement."
Chris said: "I intend to keep busy. My days will continue to start when I leave for the gym at 6.00 am, but now I should be able to stay for more than half an hour before having to rush off to work.
"But most of all I intend to grow old disgracefully and the freedom to spend sunny days roaring around Europe in an open-topped sports car ? like Mr Toad sounds particularly appealing at present."
? Richard Samson, previously Chief Executive Designate of East of England Co-op, has now took over as Chief Executive.