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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

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

Helpdesk Analyst

£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

Senior Helpdesk Analyst / Service Desk Co-ordinator

£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album