Save our Sheringham - Say NO to Tesco

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Supermarket boss swaps £250,000 Tesco salary for his own corner shop

From the Daily Mail.
Peter Durose is a man who had the world at his feet. A quarter-of-a-million pound salary plus bonuses, running the biggest produce section at Tesco with potential of a board membership and the annual salary of £1.5m that went with it. Yet earlier this year Peter, 42, made the momentous decision to end his glittering career to run a small high street grocery shop in the rural town of Buntingford in Hertfordshire.
It's been a huge change not only for Peter, but for his wife Marion, 35, and two daughters Grace, seven, and five-year-old Lauren. He says he realised he had to quit when, one Sunday morning in April last year, his daughter asked him to read her a story. "I can't," he snapped. "I'm far too busy." Then he turned to his Blackberry to send yet another email to a colleague.
Like so many top businessmen and women, his career had taken over his life, to the exclusion of his family. He says: "The work never, ever stopped. There was a huge amount to be done, and so little time. Thanks to technology, the culture today is such that you never stop working, even at weekends - I didn't. The pressure to succeed was so intense I felt every waking moment had to be spent on my mobile, the laptop or checking my Blackberry." A few weeks later, driving into work early one morning, he was overtaken by his immediate boss racing to get to the office first, and realised the pressure would never end. "It was beginning to dawn on me that, however high up the ladder I reached, the pressure would simply become greater and greater. The culture of life-consuming hard work goes right to the top at Tesco, as it does at so many other major companies."
A normal working week would see Peter leaving the family home at quarter to seven, returning home at about eight at night. "It would not be unusual for me to see my daughters once during the week, for about half an hour on a Friday night." He could fly to 50 countries in a year to check out new suppliers.
Marion, who now works with him in their high street grocery shop, says she firmly believes it would have killed him to continue. "He was so grey, as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of his body. "In the winter he wouldn't even see daylight, driving to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, spending all day in his office on the phone or in meetings. He worked under never-ending pressure."
Peter was, until earlier this year, Tesco's director for horticulture, providing fruit, vegetables and flowers for 2,500 stores across the country. He worked at the head office in Cheshunt, 15 minutes drive from the family home. "The sales value of my category was two billion pounds a year, so you can imagine how much pressure there was. I was directly responsible for buying and stock control and had about 160 people working underneath me."
Peter had worked for Tesco for ten years, before that working as the marketing manager for Boots the Chemist, having taken a Business Studies degree at Nottingham University. "Don't get me wrong, it was a great job," he says. "My days were adrenaline-fuelled and there were huge perks, like the bonuses which could be as much as 50 or 60 per cent of my annual salary in a good year - not to mention the pension, the company cars and the healthcare benefits. "As a family, materially we wanted for nothing. I'd bought - virtually mortgage free - a beautiful 200-year-old, four-bedroom converted barn worth about £800,000 with a huge garden. "We had at least two luxury holidays a year, sailing in the Mediterranean or staying in five star hotels in Barbados. But it had reached a point where my only family time were those two or three-week holidays a year. I was permanently exhausted and grumpy with the children. I was no father at all."
Today, life could not be more different. In June last year, he walked into his boss's office and told him that he was leaving. It was, Peter admits, an extremely difficult moment. "I felt tremendous guilt that I was letting them down, but I knew that for my health and my family, I could not take any other decision. He was very disappointed and asked if there was anything he could offer me to stay. But I said that my mind was made up, I was leaving."
Four months ago Peter opened the doors to his dream — a little grocery shop on the High Street in Buntingford in Hertfordshire. Instead of his powerful Mercedes, he pulls up in front of the shop in a little Mini. Instead of scores of staff waiting to obey his every beck and call, he has two local ladies, Lorraine and Sue, who come in to help out. And, instead of his smart grey suit with black polished brogues, he puts on a greengrocer's pinny. Perhaps more importantly, he has just dropped his two children off at the local school. "I can't believe how much pleasure I get out of that," he says. "I also try to pick them up at least twice a week, and then I take them home and make them something to eat while they do their homework and they tell me about their day."
Instead of selling two billion pounds worth of produce from all over the world, he is selling only home-made and locally-produced seasonal food. He has become passionate about British food, the decline of traditional values and the need to follow seasons. It is, in effect, the antithesis of the Tesco mantra where a shopper can buy any vegetable or fruit at any time — thanks to the thousands of air-miles the food has travelled. He is now running the kind of small, local shop which Tesco has forced out of business up and down the country. "There is terrific food available from small British producers but no one is selling it," he says. "Thanks to the supermarkets, food now needs to be produced in industrial- scale quantities using latest technologies and flown half-way across the world to meet demand." Peter's shop now sells apples picked ten minutes away.

A local poet named Jean not only provides a poem for Peter's website, but also brings in gooseberries from her garden. Mel the baker rustles up her classic Victorian sponge in her own kitchen among other delicious home-made cakes, and swinging from the ceiling of the shop are locally-smoked hams and turkey. "I shudder now when I see a plastic pack of ham," Peter says. "It has no flavour whatsoever. We eat so much rubbish in this country, in terms of microwave food and ready-made meals. We are eating convenience food, which is killing us. The ethos of the shop is that all we sell must be British and seasonal. It looks and smells terrific — locally made game pies, salmon caught on the river — it's the way the British used to shop and eat in the 1950s when people would shop every day."
It has, however, come at a price. Gone are the luxury holidays. Gone are the designer clothes, the weekend shopping trips during which Marion says they could spend hundreds of pounds on items for the house, or on clothes or shoes. Peter's decision has turned Marion's life upside down. "The crunchpoint for me was after we'd driven home from a weekend away last spring. It was a Sunday night, but as usual Peter's mobile and Blackberry - which I used to call the 'family-destroyer' - hadn't stopped all weekend. It rang again, and Peter said: 'You know, every time my phone rings I get pains in my chest. I know it's another thing to sort out, another problem.' I turned to him and said, bluntly: 'You'll be no use to me or the girls dead.' He was so grey, so exhausted all the time. We'd live for those two two-week breaks every year, but even then he'd have his Blackberry with him and it would take him three or four days to unwind. A lot of the time he'd be asleep on holiday." She says there were many times when she hid his Blackberry in drawers at weekends, so he would have to spend some time with his family.
Peter says: "The first time I actually thought: 'Right, I am going to leave' was when we were sitting in the car that Sunday night. Marion had said: 'Why don't you just quit?' and I said: 'I will.' Even as I said the words, I was thinking: 'Can I? Can I really give up such a great job?' I already had the seeds of the business I wanted to run all planned out in my head, but it was such a leap of faith to actually make the momentous decision to leave Tesco. There are times when it has been really scary to think of the security I have given up, but I feel I have gained so much in terms of my quality of life. It's taught me life is not all about money. You do have a choice about how you want to live."
Marion agrees: "Now we take the dog for a walk together at lunchtime, or we'll pop into the pub for a drink and a sandwich. Little things, but you can't put a value on them." She says he was a changed man within six weeks of leaving Tesco. "We'd both become caught up in the executive lifestyle. You always want more. At dinner parties we'd talk endlessly about holidays, clothes, cars, homes abroad and it became such a lesson in one-upmanship. I didn't need to work because Peter was earning so much, and filled my days with making the house look immaculate, buying things we didn't need and planning holidays."
Once Peter made the decision to leave, they sat down and worked out exactly what they needed to spend money on and realised just how much they wasted. Dropping out of the rat race has profoundly changed her life, too. "I now get up and pull on an old sweater and a pair of jeans rather than thinking what smart outfit I ought to wear to keep up appearances. The irony now is that I am working more rather than less - Peter has downsized and I have restarted my career. But I love it."
Working together in the shop has put the fizz back into their marriage. "We have always been strong but who knows if we would have survived? There are very few board members at Tesco who have stayed married to the same person. It puts so much pressure on your life that the majority of marriages crumble."
Marion put her flair into designing the shop and laying out the produce, while Peter took charge of stock and the balance sheets. They both serve in the shop, but with two local ladies as staff they can take time out during the week to pick up the children from school or just take the dog for a walk.
"The pace of our life has slowed right down," Marion says. "We've got time to talk to each other, to enjoy the little things in life, rather than hankering after more material possessions. Really, how many pairs of shoes do you need? Is a £200 meal in a top restaurant any more delicious than a simple, home-cooked meal at home? Are the children happier in a five-star hotel in Barbados or splashing about on the beach in Cornwall? It makes you re-assess all of your priorities."
The business cost around £100,000 to set up and the family used their savings rather than take out a loan. But they've had to cut right back — and four months after the shop opened, they're still not taking any money from the business.
"All the frills have gone," Marion says. "And yet we are both much happier." Peter agrees: "I wake up feeling relaxed, instead of having that tight feeling across my chest. I wake up enthused, thinking about what we can do in the shop, what I will cook for the girls that night."
Marion says: "I had all the trappings of wealth, but I didn't have much self-esteem. I hardly saw Peter, and when he did come home he was so exhausted he was like a distant stranger. Now I have designed and decorated the shop, and I love it. It's as if I regained control over my life." But doesn't she miss the money? "We could have been very wealthy, but at what price? Look at what happens to millionaires. Their marriages break up. They have heart attacks due to the stress."
Peter admits there have been moments when he's sat bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night thinking: "What have I done? I've thrown away our financial security. We don't have enough money to live on for the rest of our lives, far from it," says Marion. "We have to make this succeed to have enough money to live on. It is a gamble, no doubt. But I welcome the challenge, and I love the fact that Peter and I are in this together. We'll only have ourselves to blame if the shop fails. The most important thing is that Peter has a life now and we have a life together, as a family. That is worth more than anything else in the world."