Sainsbury's fails to recruit new finance director

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The Independent Online
J SAINSBURY said yesterday that its finance director Rosemary Thorne has agreed to delay her departure from the troubled supermarket group for a few months, as they have so far been unable to recruit a successor.

Ms Thorne was originally due to leave the company at the end of this month after seven years as finance director, but will stay on to help with the transition of her, as yet, unnamed replacement.

Her departure was announced on 30 March, along with that of David Clapham, head of special business units. The company said she was leaving by mutual consent "to pursue other opportunities", but would be eligible for substantial compensation of up to pounds 400,000. The news of her planned departure came as part of a boardroom shake-up that would cut the number of directors at the underperforming supermarket group from 14 to 12.

A Sainsbury spokesman said yesterday: "She will be staying on as we search for a replacement. We have nothing else to say."

The news is a further embarrassment to Sainsbury, which has fallen from its position as Britain's favourite grocer. Yesterday, industry figures showed that Sainsbury's grocery sales fell behind rival Asda for the first time. According to figures from market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres, Asda is now the second biggest grocery retailer behind Tesco. Sainsbury claimed the top slot until it was overtaken by Tesco in 1996. The figures showed that Asda's slice of the grocery market was 16.53 per cent in June measured by volume, compared to 16.5 per cent at Sainsbury's.

Sainsbury's shares did not react savagely to the news of the delay in finding Ms Thorne's replacement, falling 7.75p to close at 408p yesterday, in a generally lacklustre market for retailers.

Analysts were scathing however. One leading analyst, who refused to be named, said: "It's just another complete trip-up for Sainsbury. They made [Ms Thorne] a complete scapegoat."

Sainsbury's said in March that her departure was due to the separation of finance functions between the group and the Sainsbury board. It is understood that several candidates were offered her job last year.

The episode comes against a background of intense competition. Taylor Nelson Sofres figures show Sainsbury's market share slipped 0.2 per cent in June; Asda gained 0.43 per cent.