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Transcript: Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Every little bit helps -- this is a Tesco mantra. So it is cut price and no frills all the way. This ethos is reflected in the company's day-to-day culture -- and it's one that chief executive Terry Leahy takes pride in. With more than 350,000 employees and over 2000 stores worldwide -- Leahy has transformed Tesco into a global business. In 2004 Fortune magazine named him European Businessman of the Year. But while he's at the top of his game, he's never lost contact with his working-class roots. CNN's Todd Benjamin caught up with him at Tesco's headquarters.

Benjamin: When all of us look at our lives there are certain pivotal moments. What were some of the pivotal moments for you?

Leahy: Well, I guess for me I was growing up in a working class part of Liverpool in a council estate and it was to get to a good school. It happened the schools there were run by the Catholic Church. I got a great education for free and that really lifted my horizons and possibilities.

Benjamin: Let me ask you about your growing up because you did grow up on a council estate. How did it affect your values?

Leahy: Well, you know I had very loving parents. They didn't have any money but they were great parents. It's been a reminder to me that that's more important than money. I feel that I've always had a strong bond with ordinary people since that time. I feel I understand them and of course that's a great advantage to me in my job today.

Benjamin: And once a year you spend a week in a Tesco store actually doing shelving, being at the tills.

Leahy: If you want to know what work is like at Tesco you don't find it sitting in an office. You actually find out by going into the store and doing that work and I'm reminded how hard people work and how well they work. It's good work and I learn a lot and I bring some ideas back here to the office.

Benjamin: You joined Tesco as I said when you were 23. You became the chief executive when you were 40. You're now 50. As a young man from what I have read you could be a bit sharp at times. How do you think your leadership style has changed over the years?

Leahy: Well yeah I was pretty driven then. I think working in Tesco and working with people has taught me that of course the important thing is what you cause other people to do rather than what you do yourself. And so over time you learn that it's much more about motivating and inspiring other people and challenging other people to do more, to do things differently.

Benjamin: What's a key thing you look for in your lieutenants?

Leahy: Well, you want confidence. And I like that definition of a leader as someone who takes you further than you would go on your own. So it's somebody who you want to listen to and somebody who makes you feel good about yourself and about your capability and gives you the courage and the optimism to take on a challenge and succeed.

Benjamin: But all good leaders, they have to have some quality that makes people want to follow, correct?

Leahy: Yeah, that's right. I think that people have got to want to follow you and I think that has a lot to do with not what you say but really your value system and people actually watch what you do more than what you say. And if you can be consistent over time and what you say is what you then go out and do I think people see that and they start to trust you.

Benjamin: And Terry Leahy's value system is?

Leahy: Well, I believe a lot in people. I believe a lot in the potential of people. So I've never lost that belief that people are capable of incredible things if you give them the confidence and opportunity.


Terry Leahy

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