Sainsbury's finance chief to depart

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The Independent Online

J Sainsbury moved to complete its executive clear-out yesterday with the surprise news that its finance director had quit.

J Sainsbury moved to complete its executive clear-out yesterday with the surprise news that its finance director had quit.

Roger Matthews, 50, plans to leave the struggling supermarket group at the end of its financial year, in March. He does not have another job lined up, but instead is hoping to indulge his passion for sport.

Shares in Sainsbury's, which have slumped on fears that the company is poised to issue its third profits warning of the year, fell 4p to 255.25p.

Although Mr Matthews' plans to leave sparked speculation that he had clashed with the new chairman, Philip Hampton, over plans to slash the dividend, the group denied there had been any falling out. Mr Matthews joined Sainsbury's five years ago from Compass.

Mr Hampton said: "Roger told Justin [King, who joined as chief executive in March] that he wanted to do other things with his life. He said exactly the same to me when I arrived in July. It's just been a question of deciding what was the right time to announce it."

Mr Matthews' exit is the latest in a string of departures from the supermarket group, which ousted its former chief executive, Sir Peter Davis, in July. Last month, Lord Levene of Portsoken and Keith Butler-Wheelhouse both quit as non-executive directors after a dispute about a payout to Sir Peter of £2.6m. Stuart Mitchell, its former head of supermarkets, and Sara Weller, its former deputy managing director, have left, as has Keith Evans, its former head of non-food.

Egon Zender, the headhunter, is leading the search for a replacement for Mr Matthews. Sainsbury's stopped using Whitehead Mann, which found Mr King, after an investor backlash over its recommendation that Sir Ian Prosser should take over from Sir Peter.

Mr King is working on plans to turn around Sainsbury's recent dismal performance. Analysts reckon underlying sales at the group fell during the summer, in spite of its efforts to clear large amounts of non-food stock and strong petrol sales. Mr King, who used to run Marks & Spencer's now-struggling food arm, will unveil his new strategy in a fortnight, which is likely to include plans to halve the group's hefty dividend. He is thought likely to sell underperforming stores and alter its non-food offering.

Mr Hampton said: "Roger hasn't expressed any significant disagreement with any issues that are being discussed. He's not getting any compensation. It's entirely his decision to leave. We understood his reasons for wanting to go. Five years is a good slot as a finance director and Justin is building a new team here. There's definitely been a need to bring new blood."

Mr Matthews was the only director bar Sir Peter to receive a bonus last year thanks to the group's drop in profits. Mr Matthews was paid £178,000 for overseeing the sale of Sainsbury's US supermarkets business, Shaws. His current options packages are worthless, given the drop in the share price.

Mr Hampton said Mr Matthews planned to "develop a portfolio of interests in both the public and private sectors within which he also hopes to address his passion for sport". Mr Matthews is a marathon runner and is fond of rugby, football and cricket. He is a non-executive director of Zenergy UK.

Analysts lamented his departure. One said: "He had been the one element of continuity throughout the executive board. But he'd probably just had enough. He was seen by investors as a safe pair of hands."

Sainsbury's joint house broker, UBS, added to fears that the supermarket chain is poised to slash its dividend and warn on profits when it cut almost one-fifth off its profit forecasts last week.

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