LONDON, July 9 After a decade at the helm,
Justin King stepped down as CEO of Sainsbury's on
Wednesday, with its chairman reassuring the grocer's investors
that a tough market and the rise of discounters wouldn't stop it
prospering under his successor.
King left the over 1,230 store British retailer at the
conclusion of its annual shareholders meeting in central London
and was succeeded by commercial director Mike Coupe; a promotion
that was announced in January.
"I'm sure of one thing, Justin's departure doesn't mean the
end of this success story," said chairman David Tyler.
He paid tribute to King, calling him a "guiding light to all
of us," prompting a partial standing ovation from a packed room
of, mainly elderly, private investors.
King joined as CEO in March 2004 and in his 10 years
transformed the 145-year-old group's fortunes, delivering over
10 billion pounds ($17 billion) in incremental sales, a
near-tripling in earnings and total shareholder return (TSR) of
But he departs with Sainsbury's - in common with its big
rivals, market leader Tesco, Wal-Mart's Asda
and Morrisons - battling the lowest growth in the sector
for a decade and the two pronged challenge of discount grocers
Aldi and Lidl and upmarket players such
Sainsbury's run of 36 straight quarters of like-for-like
sales growth under King came to an end in March and it has since
posted another quarterly fall.
Tyler said the board was confident Sainsbury's
differentiated offer would see it emerge as a winner. That
includes a focus on own-brand products, online and convenience
stores, as well as expansion into non-food items and financial
"I know I leave the business in safe hands," said King, 53,
without giving any clues on what he plans to do next.
He has said he wants another big job, though a "non-compete"
deal rules him out of taking a role with any rival grocery chain
for 12 months.
"Mr King has done a fantastic job here .... Is there any
chance Mr King could rescue Marks & Spencer?," asked
private shareholder George Conway.
Coupe, as CEO designate, has already made his mark, fronting
last month's move by Sainsbury's to team-up with Denmark's Dansk
Supermarked to bring the Netto brand back to the UK and take on
the fast-growing German discount chains at their own game.
($1 = 0.5877 British Pounds)
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Mark Potter)