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King leaves transformed Sainbury's

Justin King is leaving Sainsbury's today after transforming the fortunes of the supermarket during a decade in charge.

Mr King, who will step down as chief executive at the company's AGM in London today, has been hailed as the saviour of the grocer after he inherited a business that was said to have been "on its knees".

Since taking over, the former Marks & Spencer food boss has more than trebled annual underlying profits to £798 million.

Sainsbury's looked like a basket case in terminal decline when Mr King started at the helm in March 2004, with sliding sales and shareholders ready to revolt. Once Britain's number one supermarket, it had been eclipsed by Tesco and Asda.

But the chief executive leaves the business having just announced his ninth successive year of profits growth.

His grandly titled overhaul - Making Sainsbury's Great Again - saw the recruitment of 3,000 shop floor staff and the adoption of a new back-to-basics approach.

Mr King also brought sparkle to the supermarket with the recruitment of TV chef Jamie Oliver.

It scored another marketing coup with its sponsorship of the Paralympics in 2012 and the recruitment of David Beckham as brand ambassador.

Mr King oversaw 36 successive quarters of like-for-like sales growth as Sainsbury's fought off the threat from discounters Aldi and Lidl that had left rivals floundering.

But the end of his period in charge has seen two quarters of decline in a row as the grocery sector continued to be squeezed by cautious consumer spending.

Analysts expect his successor Mike Coupe's first set of annual results as boss in 2015 to show a fall in profits to £737 million, with the industry in the grip of a price war.

Mr King has rejected suggestions that he is leaving the business at the top and said he was confident it would go from strength to strength.

Chairman David Tyler paid tribute to the chief executive when he announced in January that he was to step down, saying: "He has been an absolutely inspirational leader for Sainsbury's over the last decade and he has affected one of the most striking turnarounds in business.

"Sainsbury's was close to being on its knees. Its shelves were often unstocked. Morale was at rock bottom. Market share was falling. Profits were inadequate.

"Justin was on a mission to make Sainsbury's great again. It is a mark of an extraordinary leader to go when his audience is asking for more."

Mr King spent much of his early career at Mars and Pepsi and was also an executive at Asda and Haagen Dazs UK, moving to M&S before taking over from Sir Peter Davis at Sainsbury's.

But he has squashed suggestions that he might return to Marks should the troubled reign of Marc Bolland come to an end, indicating that a 12-month non-compete clause in his current contract was likely to rule him out.


From Belfast Telegraph