Justin King

Justin King, chief executive, Sainsbury’s

As you’ll understand, for me it’s not an easy decision to make. Emotionally I’ve invested ten years of my life in the leadership of Sainsbury’s and I love the business, what it stands for and the 157,000 colleagues that it’s been my great privilege to lead. But as David said part of leadership is knowing when the time is right, both for you but also for the business that you lead, to hand on the reins and I believe that time is now.

We’ve given ourselves an extended run for the handover. I will formally step down at the AGM in the summer and I’m looking forward very much to the next six months and helping the transition to Mike’s leadership. I’ve known Mike for a very long time, we’ve worked together before, 20 years ago at Asda, and it’s been fantastic that he’s been with us on the entire journey of the last ten years, making Sainsbury’s great again and as David has already noted, the reputation he already enjoys in the business means he’s absolutely the right candidate for me to hand over to.

Mike Coupe

Mike Coupe, CEO designate and group commercial director, Sainsbury’s

As you can imagine I’m absolutely delighted and incredibly proud to have been asked to become the new CEO at Sainsbury’s. I’ve enjoyed my time here incredibly and I’m now very, very excited about the future, about leading the team within the Sainsbury’s business. In my view we have the strongest team in retail, that’s right across our business, in our stores, in our depots, in our store support centre and I’m really looking forward to working with our colleagues in the future.

Now it’s a very tough trading environment but I’m confident that we can continue to perform strongly doing a great job for our customers whenever they shop with us

Justin is leaving a fantastic legacy and he’s worked very closely with me and we’ve worked together now for ten years in Sainsbury’s but actually we’ve know each other for 20 years and I was working it out I think we’ve actually worked together for something like 17 out of the last 20 years. So we’ll be effecting a very close handover over the next six months and I’m looking forward to putting that in place and making sure that all works smoothly. So a fantastic opportunity for me and I’m really, really excited.

David Tyler, chairman, Sainsbury’s

We will be very sorry to see Justin go, while wishing him every possible success for the future. He has been an absolutely inspirational leader for Sainsbury’s over the last decade and he’s effected one of the most striking turnarounds in business. If you can cast your minds back to 2004 when he joined, Sainsbury’s was close to being on its knees. Its shelves were often unstocked, morale was at rock bottom. Our market share was falling and profits were wholly inadequate. And from the moment he joined - that was in March 2004 - Justin was clearly on a mission to make Sainsbury’s great again. And during this period he and his team have restored customer trust. They revitalised the energy and commitment of our colleagues and he reignited the company’s values so that today we can genuinely say that Sainsbury’s is a place where people love to work and shop, with the quality of our corporate responsibility and culture seen as second to none.

“It’s the mark of an extraordinary leader to take the decision to go when his audience is still asking for more”

David Tyler

Under his leadership, sales have grown more than 60% over the 10 years and profits have trebled. But more than just restoring the past, the team have built strong new businesses in clothing and general merchandise, powerful convenience and online operations, as well as building a wide range of services for customers, culminating in the next few days in the acquisition of the full 100% ownership of Sainsbury’s Bank.

So Justin will be leaving in July a very different Sainsbury’s, and one that is far stronger than the one he inherited. The board and I, as well as our 157,000 colleagues thank him for what he’s done for Sainsbury’s, our shareholders and indeed all our stakeholders. We will certainly miss him.

And it’s the mark of an extraordinary leader to take the decision to go when his audience is still asking for more but one of the many legacies that Justin leaves is a very talented management team ready to take the business on to the next stage and in particular I am delighted on behalf of the Board to be announcing that Mike Coupe will become CEO in July.

Justin King and Mike Coupe

Succession planning is one of the most important tasks for any board, if not the most important and we’ve reviewed our options carefully over time with Mike always being seen as a key potential successor. But he’s not been appointed because he was the only candidate we considered – we went through a thorough review also of external candidates. Mike has been appointed today because he is the outstanding candidate.

His experience of the industry is unparalleled. He’s had stints in Tesco, in Asda, and also in Iceland, as well as almost ten years here at Sainsbury’s. He is much admired and respected by our team as well as by our suppliers. He’s run our supply chain and trading team throughout his time here, as well as taking responsibility for an extended period in the business for our marketing activities, our IT and our online business. He’s got a great record of leadership and indeed of innovation within Sainsbury’s having been central to the development here of our non-food business, our digital initiatives, brand match and plenty more initiatives. We have no doubt that he will be an outstanding CEO of this business.

Steve Murrells, head of retail, The Co-operative Group

Justin King has made a telling contribution to the development and success of Sainsbury’s throughout his period as its chief executive. His drive, ambition and passion for retailing illustrates why we have one of the most competitive and dynamic retail markets in the world.  We wish him continued success in the future.

Peter Kendall, president, NFU

Over the course of his 10 years as Sainsbury’s chief executive, Justin has driven real changes in sourcing, including committing to double the amount of British food they sell by 2020. His successor, Mike Coupe, has played an integral part in delivering this and we hope under his leadership that Sainsbury’s will go from strength to strength and its continuing support for British agriculture. Justin has built a strong profile with the farming community over the past few years and we hope Mike will continue to do the same.

Tony Gregg, owner, Anthony Gregg Partnershi

Justin King promised to make Sainsbury’s great again and he’s done just that. He’s built the business back up in difficult circumstances and cemented his place in Sainsbury’s history

King is a towering figure for Mike Coupe to follow. It’s like David Moyes at Manchester United. Coupe is hugely experienced and very competent, but recent results haven’t been so strong and the future is far from certain.

Sally Elliott, head of retail, Korn Ferry

Mike’s appointment as CEO is not unexpected. The decision of the Sainsbury’s board to promote from within is in line with market trends in CEO hiring in retail, both in the UK and globally.

Of the current group of UK retail CEOs, 64 of the top 100 have been appointed internally, compared with 51 of the previous generation of CEOs holding the same roles. At a global level, Korn/Ferry research shows that of the last 197 CEO changes amongst the largest 250 retailers globally, 163 appointments were from within.

“With a broad remit making him responsible for all aspects of trading, customer insights, consumer marketing and store development, he was ideally positioned to take the top job”

Sally Elliott

Justin leaves a legacy of consistent growth and strong performance versus competitors in the grocery sector, but as group commercial director Mike has been a key contributor to Sainsbury’s success. With a broad remit making him responsible for all aspects of trading, customer insights, consumer marketing and store development, he was ideally positioned to take the top job.

The announcement of Mike’s succession ahead of time suggests appropriate forward planning. We are seeing a significant increase in the amount of interest and time that boards are investing in the issue of CEO succession planning. Many of our clients  are typically thinking two to three CEO moves ahead, ensuring that candidates are assessed against the strategic priorities of the company over the next three to five years, and continuously developing and assessing their potential CEOs of the future.

Own-label supplier

I think it’s the obvious choice. Mike has worked hand in hand with Justin for years and the key thing for him is to carry on the excellent work they have been doing while trying to put his own stamp on the leadership.

They are very different characters and Justin’s are very big shoes to fill but I think Mike has all the qualities needed for the job and will create his own legacy.

I’m glad they’ve gone for somebody from inside who knows the businesses inside out rather than look to someone from outside.


He is hugely experienced and has been second only to Justin in the turnaround of Sainsbury’s. The business is now in a very healthy state compared to a decade ago and Justin leaves a fantastic legacy. However, the grocery market is as tough and challenging as has ever been the case.

Sainsbury's Interior


He’s got massive boots to fill at Sainsbury’s but given Coupe has been part of the significant successes over the last three to four years, the move is logical and am sure, well-deserved. It will be a shame if the industry loses King. He is a massive figure in the industry who has shown vision as well as delivering a successful strategy and consistent results. He leaves Sainsbury’s with momentum and what look like well-invested stores - a valuable legacy, especially for Mike Coupe and unlike the Leahy/ Clarke dynamic! 


I think continued focus on value, innovation (brand and own label) convenience and online will be vital for Sainsbury’s and from a branded supplier perspective, continue to back emerging, on trend brands like ourselves. Sainsbury’s has been really supportive allowing us to lead growth in their key categories. We also believe we can add a lot in terms of supporting category management like the larger traditional fmcg suppliers do.


Mike is very different to Justin. Mike is, I would say, a commercial animal - tough commercially, but I would have to see a different side to him in order to fill Justin’s charismatic shoes.

“People forget quite how bad Sainsbury’s had got before Justin arrived”

People forget quite how bad Sainsbury’s had got before Justin arrived. He’s galvanised the team from the grassroots in store up. You only have to look at how rudderless Tesco and Morrison are to see the importance of having a ‘leader’ of a retailer for the team to get behind.

If I had Sainsbury shares, I would probably sell them now. Guys as good as Justin don’t come around very often and, if they do, then they would probably avoid the retail sector at the moment!

I think that there will be the hope that Mike will carry on the good work that Justin has done, so in that respect it’s a good strategy for them. They have just overtaken Asda again, they have a great core identity with shoppers and have negotiated their way out of the melee of the price battle with the ability of a Teflon eel.

David Francis, commercial director, Divine Chocolate

We hope Sainsbury’s will maintain its commitment to being the largest retailer of Fairtrade products in the world.

Read this: King’s reign ends