ANALYSIS: Justin King crosses the finishing line, but what next for Sainsbury’s?

Formula 1 fan Justin King is leaving the supermarket, but the showman is game for another big race

Justin King has left the building. Long live the king?

Most would agree that the job he pulled off at Sainsbury’s will no doubt make its way into business textbooks the world over; he turned around a struggling company, destined for a slow, painful demise, and brought it back to life, rejuvenating a tired brand.

The 52-year-old triathlete joined the supermarket in 2004 just as the business lost its position as the number two supermarket to Asda, followed swiftly by three profit warnings and the resignation of its chairman.

Tesco’s Clubcard meant customers deserted in droves, while Sainsbury’s poor imitation (at that time) the Nectar card, was a long way from successful.

However, with a mixture of panache and common sense, Mr King managed to claw back the business, revamping stores, building up its non-food business and creatingthe only viable competitor to Tesco in convenience stores.

Some argue the former Asda man’s gains were down to Tesco’s failures, as overseas expansion became the larger rival’s biggest interest, but Mr King also managed to take full advantage of the disasters.

He was well-liked by the City for his seemingly straight talking and smooth style of management. Many have said he could have a career in politics, with his facility for sound bites and answering questions that may not even have  been asked. Supremely confident and in love with the limelight, he was unapologetic about his £3m pay packet, believing he was worth every penny (if not more).

He played a leading role in encouraging the Government to tackle business rates and tax avoidance by some of the biggest international retailers – even showing off a copy of a corporation tax return form to a room full of retailers “in case they didn’t know what one looked like”.

However, one question that was constantly raised in the past few years was over his future.

With Mr King’s love of politics – he was a business adviser to David Cameron before leaving for being too vocal – many wondered if he wanted to move on after 10 years, much like Tony Blair.

He always avoided answering, quipping that William Morrison ran his supermarkets for 40 years, that he had lots of energy and that all his focus was on the job at hand.

Now that he has confirmed his departure, what next?

The initial rumours suggest he could be lined up to take over the helm at Marks & Spencer, should under pressure chief executive Marc Bolland get the boot. A move back to the retailer would mark a triumphant return to the company he was poached from in 2004 when director of food.

However, Mr King made it clear his Sainsbury’s contract states he is not allowed to work for a rival for at least 12 months after leaving.

A keen petrol head, speculation has also circulated that he had been approached by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone – his son Jordan already races and is tipped as a future Formula One star (his proud father follows his races most weekends).

Again, Mr King refused to deny the speculation, with some believing he would love the chance to run F1, whether he had been approached or not.

Political parties will also no doubt be knocking down his door, and a peerage would not be unexpected; others suggest his love of sport could see him take on a Seb Coe role, after Mr King personally signed up Sainsbury’s to the Paralympics as its sole sponsor.

Whatever he chooses to do, it will need to be fast-paced and full on, because a nine-to-five man he is not.

But what of his successor Mike Coupe? He has already made it clear that he wants to follow in Mr King’s footsteps, which is unsurprising considering the two have worked together for 10 years at Sainsbury’s and were colleagues at Asda in the 1990s.

Mr Coupe also had an ill-fated stint as managing director of Iceland, introducing organic produce to the business at a time when upmarket rivals were barely stocking it, yet alone discount competitors.

The mild-mannered 53-year-old has spent the last 12 months finding his voice and took a lead role in fronting campaigns for the business, especially since the horsemeat scandal.

He has spoken out for Sainsbury’s in its campaign against the Advertising Standards Authority and Tesco over the bigger rival’s price promise, which is now going to judicial review. He has increasingly been hosting meetings and awards for the business, being allowed to take some focus away from Mr King.

Currently commercial director, Mr Coupe is said to be well respected throughout the supply chain and has intimate knowledge of merchandising and trading.

He will have his work cut out, because, with deft timing, Mr King has announced his resignation as a 36-quarter run of like-for-like growth is coming to an end. But if he can pull off the same tricks as Mr King, he will earn an equally glowing reputation.

King’s reign: Ten years at the top

March 2004 Justin King becomes chief executive of Sainsbury’s.

April 2004 Completes sale of Shaw’s Supermarkets, a US business.

June 2004 Revolt over bonus scheme; Philip Hampton takes over as chairman.

October 2004 After third profit warning of the year, launches ‘Making Sainsbury’s Great Again.’

March 2005 Posts first of 36 consecutive quarters of sales growth.

September 2005 Launches ‘Try Something New Today’ campaign, with Jamie Oliver.

July 2007 Qatari-backed fund Delta Two makes takeover approach.

September 2010 Taste the Difference range relaunched.

July 2011 Parts company with Jamie Oliver.

September 2011 New ‘Live Well for Less’ adverts.

November 2011 Opens its 1,000th UK store, in Ayrshire.

2012 Sponsors Paralympics.

January 2013 One of the few supermarkets unaffected by horsemeat scandal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine