Retail leader, Sainsbury’s CEO 2004–2014
Justin King served as CEO of J Sainsbury for a decade. At the time one of the youngest CEOs in FTSE 100 history, Justin’s time in charge is seen as one of the great success stories of modern British business. He’s now vice-chair of private equity firm Terra Firma overseeing a portfolio that stretches from cinema chains to garden centres.
Sainsbury’s was losing market share and, despite huge investment, struggling to compete with its rivals when Justin was appointed Chief Executive. Taking difficult and sometimes controversial decisions, he launched a company-wide overhaul. After only a year in the role, he reported the first improvement in quarterly sales figures for more than two years. Pioneering dramatic changes in the relationship between management and staff, he introduced a ‘tell Justin’ scheme to encourage feedback from employees and even manned a checkout during the Christmas rush. Four years after taking charge, Sainsbury’s reported twelve consecutive quarters of growth and hit its sales targets ahead of time.
Justin led Sainsbury’s during huge shifts in the retail and supermarket landscape including diversifying into general merchandise, the rise of online shopping and of discount retailers, the move into smaller, convenience stores, and a cut-throat price war between rivals Tesco and Asda. Sainsbury’s steered a path balancing quality and price and moved quickly into online and convenience shopping.
Prior to Sainsbury’s Justin began his career as a marketing trainee with Mars before moving on to Pepsi and Haagen-Dazs. He then moved to Asda as MD and later ran M&S’s food division.