Allan Leighton celebrates the career of veteran retail marketer Jill Keen, a devoted friend of the retail industry, who passed away last week.

Keen began her career at Asda in 1986, rising quickly through the ranks during a transformative era at the company as Archie Norman and Allan Leighton turned the struggling business around.

She amassed a wealth of experience at some of the UK’s best-known retail companies, and has been described as a “relentlessly enthusiastic” and “tremendous” colleague and mentor, and a devoted friend of the retail industry.

After 12 formative years at Asda in which she held increasingly senior roles, including head of loyalty and head of brands, Keen was poached by Great Mills DIY as marketing director. When the chain was bought two years later by Focus, Keen was instrumental in smoothing the transition process.

After her time at Great Mills and Focus, Keen worked in key marketing roles at Somerfield and then Sainsbury’s.

Throughout her career she was known for devoting particular efforts to nurturing young retail talent, dedicating herself to training and developing graduate and trainee recruits.

Commenting on the news of her death, former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton said: “Jill was a tough cookie, and a real fighter, but also one of the smartest people I know. And behind the gruff exterior was a woman who really cared about people. She will really be missed by all those she touched.” 

She leaves behind husband John Gray and their two daughters, Georgia and Daisy.