Former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy said he became “more pushy and aggressive” as he dealt with the competitive environment at the grocer to get to the top.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, the former Tesco chief described his rise to the top of the business after joining from The Co-operative in 1979 in the marketing department.

He said: “After the calm of The Co-op, Tesco was manic, aggressive and competitive. It was a cut and thrust place, sharp-elbowed.

“You had to [be tough] - you couldn’t be a shrinking violet. My pride wouldn’t let them get the better of me, so I became more pushy and aggressive.”

Leahy, who spent 32 years with the business and 14 of them as chief executive, added: “I think people would say that I’m calm, but they wouldn’t always enjoy meeting me. It wasn’t all sweetness and light, but I was fair.”

The paper is serialising Leahy’s new book Management in 10 Words this week.

When asked if he missed the Tesco job, Leahy said: “Not at all. I’d be rather troubled if I did. If anything there’s a degree of relief. People are reluctant to admit it in case they look weak, but all these big jobs are pressurised.”

Leahy insisted he didn’t depart Tesco expecting difficulties for incoming chief executive Philip Clarke, who issued a profit warning in January.

“It wasn’t like that. I’d had a run of health issues, which were signs that it all takes its toll, I’d done enough and there was someone good to take over. And remember, by 2011, the economy was supposed to be in recovery,” he said.

He is also involved in a scheme to build a series of shopping centres in China’s second cities.