Outlook: Sainsbury is moving in the right direction

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The Independent Online
DAVID SAINSBURY is happy about it, George Bull, the new chairman, is happy about it, Dino Adriano, the chief executive, is happy about it and, perhaps most important of all, the City is happy about it. In the end it hardly seems to matter whether Lord Sainsbury was persuaded to go or, as he insists, is going of his own accord. Whatever the case, he never looked comfortable as head of the family dynasty. His style was a complete contrast to his famously autocratic predecessor, John Sainsbury, and it was always hard to avoid the impression that he was there more out of a sense of duty than ambition.

That said, it ought to be added that David Sainsbury was never a no-hoper, third-generation, chinless wonder of a manager. His reign has not been a conspicuous success, but then he was unlucky to step into the hot seat just as the company was in any case coming seriously off the boil. In private moments, he would say that it was sometimes a burden having your name over the door. In his five and half years at the helm, Sainsbury's has under-performed the market by quite a bit and been overtaken convincingly by its arch-rival Tesco.

There were certainly mistakes. Lord Sainsbury dismissed loyalty cards as little more than "electronic Green Shield stamps" and then had to launch his own when they proved a spectacular success at Tesco. The company avoided urban mini-stores like Tesco Metros, saying they would not be profitable. Several years later it is testing its own smaller stores called Sainsbury's Local.

All the same, Sainsbury's does now seem to have turned the corner and David Sainsbury can take the credit for that. Had he left last autumn when he first contemplated the move, the judgement of history would have been a harsh one. As it is, he seems to be leaving the ship in relatively good order. His decision to sever the family link with management is also undoubtedly the right one. Marks & Spencer and Tesco flourished after their family ties were cut. With its strong brand name there is no reason why Sainsbury's cannot make it a hat trick.