MORRISONS’ FINANCE CONTROLLER COOKS UP WINNING WEB STRATEGY

WITH a name like Richard Pennycook, there was only ever one possible vocation for Morrisons’ group finance director (FD), who proved he is worthy of the title by restoring the grocer’s profits after the slump when it bought Safeway in 2005.

So keep those “cooking the books” jokes to yourself, because Pennycook last night received his sector’s highest honour at the FDs’ Excellence Awards in Grosvenor Square, beating rival FDs Paul Brooks from Experian, Michael McKeown of Severn Trent, John Bason of Associated British Foods and Douglas Hurt of IMI to be named FTSE 100 FD of the Year 2011.

Pennycook, 47, was rewarded for his “strategic move towards a multichannel approach” for the value supermarket chain, overseeing the £70m acquisition of Peterborough retailer Kiddicare.com in February and its £32m stake in US online grocer FreshDirect on 9 March.

So is the future of supermarket shopping online? Pennycook was unable to attend the ceremony, so it was left to Morrisons chief accountant Robin Brown to fill in the gaps of Morrisons’ strategy. “We don’t sense that our competitors are making money from online sales,” he told The Capitalist. “So we bought a 10 per cent stake in Fresh Direct, which has been making good money in the US for years, to make that model work.

He added: “We are playing catch-up in the online retail race with the competition – but without the hassle of having to work out how to make that business profitable.”

Meanwhile, the evening’s other winners collected their awards from former ITN and BBC journalist Peter Sissons, who said of his time at the BBC: “One thing I learned was the value of teamwork, which means never taking all the blame for yourself.”

“Of course, we do exclude the FD of the BBC, Zarin Patel,” he continued, before presenting the award for Young FD of the Year to Avon Rubber’s Andrew Lewis, and the FTSE 250 FD of the Year jointly to Mike Butterworth from Cookson Group and Richard Perry from Fenner.

Richard Hutton of Greggs the baker picked up the Sustainable Business Award. Fellow guest, building contractor Steve Hayman, joked “to run a sustainable business you have to have a few fingers in a few pies.” Meanwhile Glenn Hayward of Nominet was nominated as the FD of the Future.

No doubt headhunter Kelvin Trott of Alexander Charles, voted Recruitment Firm of the Year, will be keeping a close eye on the rising stars of the FD world. “I very much look forward to meeting them,” he said.