Sir Leslie Porter

(1920 - 2005)




Sir Leslie Porter was born on 10 July 1920 in London, to Henry and Jane Posament. He grew up in North London and went to Holloway School, leaving at the age of 14 to join a West End firm of car dealers, HR Owen Rolls Royce dealers, where he demonstrated his ability in sales. He joined the family owned textile business, J. Porter & Co., in 1938, after completing his schooling at Holloway County School.

During the Second World War, Leslie served in the King's Royal Rifle Corps in Egypt, Greece, Crete, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Italy, rising to the rank of Quartermaster Sergeant, in the 1st Battalion, The Rangers. He re-joined the family business in 1946 and immediately reorganised the operations and structure of the company to include linens for the home and furnishing fabrics. By 1954 the business was making a profit and in 1955, Porter was appointed as managing director.

In 1948, Leslie Porter married Shirley Cohen (appointed DBE in 1991), daughter to Jack Cohen, founder of the Tesco supermarket chain. Jack, impressed with Leslie's success at J. Porter & Co. immediately offered him a job, however, independently wealthy and successful, Leslie did not make the move to Tesco Stores until 1959. Leslie and Shirley Porter had two children, John and Linda.

Leslie joined Tesco Stores as a Director and Head of Home 'ní Wear department in 1959. His success in the developing non-foods divisions for Tesco led to his appointment as Assistant managing director in 1964. Leslie and Cohen often clashed over business operations, and management styles; many of their boardroom clashes becoming anecdotal stories in the business world. Leslie is credited with the successful restructuring Tesco, and implementing a sound business strategy which has ensured the continued success of the business.

Part of the success and expansion of Tesco Stores was the physical restructuring of stores; opening bigger stores in more significant locations, and essentially the creation of supermarkets in the United Kingdom. Under the leadership of Leslie, Tesco expanded their range of services to customers and the group now operates in food, non-food retail, financial services, telecommunications and property development.

In 1977, Leslie oversaw the decision to stop participation in the Green Shield Stamps program which had been running since the 1960s. The move enabled Tesco to save £20 million per year, which the company was able to use for grocery price reductions. He and the management team, launched Operation Checkout in 1977, aimed at passing on retails savings to clients.

In 1970, he was appointed as Deputy chairman. He was managing director between 1972 and 1973, and chairman from 1973 until 1985. Leslie was President of Tesco Stores from 1985 until his retirement in 1990. He was awarded an Honorary PhD in Business Management from Tel Aviv University in 1974.

Leslie was knighted in 1983, and appointed to the Order of St. James in 1992.

Sir Leslie retired with his wife Dame Shirley to Israel, in 1993 and was actively involved in philanthropic activities until his death in 2005. Their involvement included among others the Porter Foundation, and a number of charitable organisations in Israel and the United Kingdom.

In 1993, Leslie was appointed as Chancellor of Tel Aviv University. During his tenure, he and his wife set up several scholarship funds at the university, as well as working to expand the university premises by donating funds for the Shirley and Leslie Porter School of Cultural Studies, Porter Institute for Semiotics and Poetics, the Cohen-Porter United Kingdom Building of Life Sciences and the Cohen-Porter Family Swimming Pool.

Care for the elderly and services to benefit the elderly formed a large part of Porter's philanthropic activities in the United Kingdom, through the Porter Foundation and in Israel, with the funding of the Porter Senior Citizen Centre in Jaffa.

Sir Leslie Porter was a supporter of the arts, with his endowment of The Porter Gallery at National Portrait Gallery, and funding for The Porter Gallery at the V&A, as well as the Royal Academy.

He died on 20th March 2005.

RH