The Co-operative Group appoints first Independent Non-Executive Chair

19 February 2015

Allan Leighton will bring wealth of retail and turnaround experience

As Chair, Allan will work with the Board, the Council of members and the executive team to continue the vital work of rebuilding The Co-operative Group. He will assume his new role with immediate effect, taking over from Ursula Lidbetter who has chaired the Group since November 2013.

Allan’s appointment follows that of Sir Christopher Kelly as Senior Independent Director of the Group Board in November last year. Allan will now lead the work to complete the establishment of the new Board, composed of a majority of Independent Directors and designed to ensure greater professionalism and stronger oversight. The appointment of the four remaining Independent Non-Executive Directors is expected ahead of the Group’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in May this year. Further elected Directors will join the Board following the AGM. 

Allan has held a series of high profile roles, including Chief Executive of Asda, the grocery chain, from 1996 to 2000, Non-Executive Chairman of Royal Mail from 2002 to 2009 and President of Loblaw, the largest food retailer in Canada, from 2008 to 2011. Current roles include Chief Executive of Pandora A/S, the jewellery manufacturer and retailer, from which he is due to step down on 1st March 2015. 

Sir Christopher Kelly, The Co-operative Group’s Senior Independent Non-Executive Director, said:

“The appointment of our first independent non-executive Chair is a highly significant moment for The Co-operative Group. We are delighted to have a figure of Allan’s experience and standing to head our reformed governance structure.

“We held a thorough and wide-ranging process to appoint our first Chair under the new governance framework and Allan was the outstanding candidate. He has long championed the power of business to benefit local communities and has a reputation for rolling his sleeves up and bringing about sustainable change.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ursula Lidbetter for the huge contribution she has made to The Co-operative Group over many years and particularly as Chair since November 2013. The vital reform of the Group’s governance owes much to her determination and dedication. Without her hard work we would not be ready to embark on the next phase of our journey.”

Richard Pennycook, Group Chief Executive, said:

“It is testament to the strength of the Co-operative brand and the organisation’s potential that a figure of Allan’s standing has chosen to join the Group and I very much look forward to working with him. His background makes him the perfect fit for us at this moment in our development. He is highly respected in the business community; he has deep knowledge of the food retail sector as well as significant turnaround experience across a range of industry sectors; and he has worked in quoted businesses and privately-owned companies.”

Allan Leighton said:

“I am delighted and privileged to be taking up this role. I grew up with this business, because my father ran the local Co-op, so I have a very real understanding of the importance of The Co-operative to local communities and a strong sense of what the Society stands for. I look forward to working with our members, customers and colleagues as we continue the crucial work to rebuild The Co-operative Group and restore it to its rightful place at the heart of communities up and down the UK.”


The Co-operative Group

  • Russ Brady: Tel: 07880 784442
  • Therese O’Donnell: Tel: 07738 622866 / 08437 540899

Tulchan Communications

  • Susanna Voyle: Tel: 020 7353 4200 
  • Jonathan Sibun: Tel: 020 7353 4200 

Notes to Editors:

About The Co-operative Group:

The Co-operative Group, which is the UK’s largest co-operative business with interests across food, funerals, insurance and legal services, has a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities. Owned by millions of UK consumers, The Co-operative Group operates a total of 3,750 outlets, with more than 70,000 employees and an annual turnover of approximately £10 billion.

Governance reform:

Following overwhelming agreement from members at the SGM in August 2014, The Co-operative Group is implementing significant governance reform, the main components of which are: 

  • The establishment of a Board composed of a majority of Independent Directors including; an Independent Chair, five Independent Non-Executive Directors, two Executive Directors, including the Group Chief Executive and three Member Nominated Directors All Board Directors will be expected to meet the high standards of competence commensurate with the needs of a business of the scale and complexity of the Group and a demonstrated commitment to Co-operative Values and Principles
  • The establishment of a Council to represent members and to act as guardian of the Group’s Purpose, Values and Principles and the Society’s Constitution, with the power to hold the Group Board to account. The Council will be composed of a maximum of 100 Members, included colleagues. The  Council will be led by a President, elected for a term of two years
  • The creation of a Senate, elected by the Council, to help co-ordinate the activities of the Council and to act as a nexus for interactions between the Council, the Board, the Executive and members

Chair Remuneration:

Consistent with the Group policy of paying at the median, the Chair’s fee will be £250,000. Allan has instructed that this be passed to The Co-operative Foundation. The Co-operative Foundation is an independent charitable trust set up in 2000 to nurture and support young people in making a positive contribution in local communities. The Foundation's current grant making programme, Truth about Youth, aims to challenge and change negative perceptions about young people, by working with seven charities in cities around the UK.

Allan Leighton CV

  • Age: 61
  • Educated Magdalen College School Brackley and Harvard Business School
  • 1973:  Lloyds Bank
  • 1974-1991: Various posts at Mars, including Market Sales Director, Pedigree Petfoods
  • 1992: Group Marketing Director, Asda
  • 1996: CEO of Asda
  • 1999-2000: President and CEO of Wal-Mart Europe
  • 2000 onwards: Board appointments including:
    • Chairman of
    • Non-Executive Director  Dyson
    • Non-Executive Director Cannons Group
    • Non-Executive Director BHS
    • Non-Executive Director, BSkyB Group  
    • Non-Executive Director Selfridges &co
  • 2002-2009: Chairman Royal Mail 
  • 2008-2011: President of Loblaw Companies
  • 2010-2013: Chairman of PANDORA
  • 2011 -  Chairman of Pace
  • 2013 - CEO of PANDORA
  • 2014  - Chairman of Entertainment One