Cash and carry pioneer dies suddenly at 73

One of the founders of the UK cash and carry movement, and one of its most successful entrepreneurs, has died suddenly at the age of 73.

Michael Peacock joined the family Features > Business, Nurdin Peacock, in 1954, when it was a provisions wholesaler specialising in eggs and butter, and from the late 1950s he developed it into the most powerful cash and carry company in the UK.

The Peacock family’s involvement in the grocery trade began in 1810 and Michael was the fifth generation of the family to run the company when he took over as chairman following the death of his father, Jack.

From the first 1,200sq ft depot in Portsmouth, Michael grew the cash and carry business almost entirely organically, rather than through acquisition, developing large purpose-built depots.
During his tenure he was renowned for the interest he took in the welfare of his staff. His own words summed up his style: “Look after the staff; they’ll look after the customers, and the shareholders will automatically do well.” 

A former branch manager and director said: “His visits to the branches, always announced, were greatly welcomed by the staff and he would spend many hours talking to warehouse staff.”

Away from his business he was a keen yachtsman, representing Great Britain in many international events and he was a reserve for the British Olympic team in 1972.

Michael retired in 1990 to care for his wife Susan and to pursue his charitable aims through the Peacock Trust.
Six years later N P was taken over by Booker when Booker had grown to 158 depots (average size 35,000sq ft) compared with N P’s 55 (average size 75,000sq ft), although one insider confirmed that some years earlier N P had been offered the opportunity to buy Booker, but declined.

Michael’s former colleagues and peers in the wholesale sector were united in their tributes to him. Malcolm Carter, who was an N P general manager from 1973 and a director from 1988-1997, said: “I was privileged to work for Mr Michael, as he was known, for 23 years. Like many of my colleagues I was trusted to run a C C for him at a relatively early age and given a great deal of autonomy.

“People mattered a great deal in this culture as it was one of trust. Managers and staff were rewarded well above the rate a competitor would pay hence we had many long serving staff.
“These were very happy days for the hundreds of people that worked for him and many today are enjoying a secure retirement because of his culture with pension and share participation schemes that gave all staff a feeling that they also owned the business.”

Another former employee who asked to remain anonymous said: “Michael Peacock embodied what I believe was the ethos of the company, and that was, no matter what part you played in the company, as an employee you were important. As a customer you were important. As a supplier you were important. By his example if you looked after everyone within the total business then the business would look after itself. It was a team effort involving all.

“It is difficult to put into words the impact he and his wife Susan had on so many people. Susan sometimes accompanied him on his business travels and was a huge support to him.”
Barry Skipper said: “For most of my tenure as chief executive of Booker’s Food Division, we were direct competitors, but competitor was not a word that aptly described Michael’s attitude to business.

“Michael Peacock was one of the last of the ‘gentleman grocers’, a role he filled admirably in his time as chairman of his family business.”

Sir Anwar Pervez, chairman of the Bestway Cash and Carry Group, said: “Michael Peacock was one of the true greats of the industry. He and his company were pioneers in the way they operated what was one of the most successful and traditional businesses in the cash and carry sector.”

Steve Parfett, managing director of Parfetts Cash Carry, said: “We have suddenly and tragically lost one of the great pioneers of our industry. While Nurdin Peacock was a family business that his father had built up, unquestionably the heyday of N P was under the guidance of Michael.”

Alan Toft, former director general of the FWD, said: “N P became staunch supporters of FWD prior to being acquired by Booker – a mark of the responsibility to the industry which the company demonstrated under Michael’s leadership.

“Michael understood and developed customer care principles to a degree which made N P the jewel in the cash and carry crown.

“There are family retail businesses established today which N P helped to launch. They will recall the help they received from N P under Michael’s guiding hand.”

Michael Peacock leaves his wife Susan, daughters Bettine and Clare, son Charles and eight grandchildren

There will be a private family funeral. Plans for a memorial service are being drawn up.

The family has asked for no flowers but donations, if desired, to Arthritis Care. Inquiries to Edward White Son, 01243 782136.

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