Justin King has resigned as chief executive of Sainsbury’s after 10 years at the helm, having helped turn the company into the second-biggest supermarkets group in the country and recording nine years of consecutive growth.
The 52-year-old will hand over the reins to current commercial director Mike Coupe at the company’s annual meeting in July, and has waived a £1.7 million pay-off he would have been entitled to.
He will receive a £240,000 deferred share award, can cash in long-term share awards over the next few years and also has a personal shareholding in the company worth £4.5 million at today’s share price.
King said he had considered leaving for between three and four years and discussed succession plans during that time with Coupe and chairman David Tyler, despite refusing for years to comment on speculation that he was eyeing up his departure.
He said: “Succession is something we have been actively engaged in for the past three or four years. I believe transition doesn’t work if you leave it too late. I think a two-term presidency can be a very good thing in politics and I think it could work in business too.
“The decision was entirely mine. I’ve observed businesses where leaders have stayed too long.”
He added: “I hope the judgment of history of my time at Sainsbury’s is that I leave it in a great place.”
The former Asda executive, who has also worked for Mars and advised the Government, said he has no plans for his future and has yet to talk with any other companies.
Some have suggested he may want to go into politics, since he has been an outspoken critic on several key policies, including business rates, online taxes and internet giants using tax avoidance tactics.
He has also been linked with a possible move into Formula 1, but said he was never approached during his time at Sainsbury’s.
“I think I’m a relatively young man. I’m sure the right opportunity will come along and I’ll know what it is when I see it.”
Since joining Sainsbury’s in 2004, King was tasked with saving the supermarket, which had previously been the biggest in the country.
However, years of underinvestment had left the stores shabby and staff demotivated.
He rebranded the business and started winning back customers from Tesco, Asda and Morrisons, and recorded 35 consecutive quarters of like-for-like growth.
However, the next quarter is expected to see the unbeaten run broken.
His successor, Coupe, has worked alongside King for 10 years at Sainsbury’s and has increasingly been placed centre stage by the company, leading a battle against the Advertising Standards Authority and Tesco over the rival’s price promise. Coupe said he expected a tough time ahead.
He added: “I’ve been in the business for 30 years and the market is the most challenging it’s ever been. We will continue to invest in areas such as online and convenience stores.”
Justin King's reign at Sainsbury's:
Justin King starts as chief executive of Sainsbury’s
Sainsbury’s completes the sale of its US business Shaw’s Supermarkets to American firm Albertsons
King’s predecessor Sir Peter Davis is forced to resign as chairman after shareholders revolt over bonus scheme; Philip Hampton takes over
After Sainsbury’s third profit warning of the year, King launches a revival plan named ‘Making Sainsbury’s Great Again’
Sainsbury’s announces a 3.7% rise in quarterly like-for-like sales, the first of 36 consecutive quarters of sales growth
Sainsbury’s launches its “Try Something New Today” strapline with a campaign fronted by Jamie Oliver
Sainsbury family members block a takeover bid from private equity firms. In the same month Qatari-backed investment fund Delta Two announces it has bought a 17.6% stake in the group.
Having upped its stake to above 25%, Delta Two approaches Sainsbury’s with takeover bid
Delta Two drops its takeover attempt
David Tyler takes over from Philip Hampton as Sainsbury’s chairman
Sainsbury’s signs a multimillion pound deal to become the first sole sponsor of the Paralympics
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range is relaunched
Sainsbury’s parts ways with Oliver, who has been the face of the supermarket for 11 years
“Live Well for Less” is unveiled as Sainsbury’s new strapline
Sainsbury’s opens its 1,000 UK store, in Ayrshire
Sainsbury’s one of the few supermarkets unaffected by horsemeat scandal