Dalton Philips’ appointment at Morrisons is set to shake up the grocery market once more. Will Morrisons’ move pay off?

Morrisons has surprised us again with the appointment of its new chief executive. And while Loblaw man Dalton Philips is not well known in UK grocery, most commentators are confident Morrisons has made a good appointment.

Turn back the tables three years and a similar – possibly even more high risk – appointment was made in the shape of Marc Bolland. Not only was Bolland an unknown in UK grocery, he hadn’t worked for a retailer before either.

But Bolland shone at Morrisons and quickly became a City favourite. The strategy he implemented was a team effort – with finance director Richard Pennycook, who narrowly missed out on the top job, playing a key part in the plans – Bolland managed it with style.

That style helped Bolland earn the respect of his staff as well as the City and he brought out the best in Morrisons. So much so, it has had a stonking three years of growth after the disastrous take over of Safeway, and this Christmas was once again the top performing UK grocer with a like-for-like uplift of 6.5%.

The fact Bolland has gone on to take the most high profile job in retailing – at Marks & Spencer – is further proof of his success.

After Bolland’s defection, some believed Morrisons would go for a safe option for his replacement. One of Sir Ken Morrison’s points about Bolland when he joined was that he had spent 20 years at Heineken and Sir Ken didn’t want someone to leave after only a couple of years.

The safe option would have been Pennycook, who has a passion about Morrisons and was responsible for a lot of the strategic direction of the grocer. While many thought it would be difficult for a finance director to take over as chief executive, Pennycook has had previous retailing experience.

Opting for Philips is a brave move but the board obviously felt that something akin to Bolland’s style was needed to keep the impetus at the grocer. And most of the people close to Philips believe he has the charisma and skill to carry on where Bolland left off.

Philips also has experience in the areas where Morrisons is weak – non-food and online grocery shopping. It may not be the right time for Morrisons to go into either of these sectors just yet but Philips’ knowledge will be invaluable if and when.

It’s also good to see a fresh face on the retail scene – and being schooled by former Asda boss Allan Leighton won’t do any harm either.