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Retail: Lord Sainsbury leads plaudits at Sainsbury’s boss Justin King stands down

15:51 09 July 2014

Justin King, who stood down today as Sainsbury

Justin King, who stood down today as Sainsbury's chief executive.

Sainsbury’s boss Justin King was today given the seal of approval by the supermarket’s top grandee on his final day in charge of the business.

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The tribute from life president Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover was one of a series of plaudits for Mr King, who is departing after a decade, at the grocer’s annual general meeting in central London.

Mr King joined the business when it was in disarray in 2004 but has turned around its fortunes to notch up nine successive years of rising profits.

Lord Sainsbury said: “I’d like to congratulate him on his achievements and his hard work and inspiration in turning round and making Sainsbury’s great again.”

The tribute was in stark contrast to the brickbats endured by Dalton Philips, head of rival store Morrisons, from Sir Ken Morrison, at its recent AGM, when he issued the embattled chief executive with a humiliating slap down over his strategy.

Mr King, 53, was warmly applauded by hundreds attending today’s meeting. One shareholder said: “Mr King is young, the company is doing well. I cannot fathom why he is going.”

The chief executive, who handed over to successor Mike Coupe following the meeting, said it had been a tough decision to depart but he did not want to stay on too long.

He said: “I think there are some examples of chief executives in our sector and others who have stayed beyond the time that was right for the company and the companies have had difficulties as a result. I believe I am leaving the business in very good hands and in very good stead.”.

Mr King, who is expected to travel to Brazil shortly to attend the World Cup Final, gave little clue as to his future plans. There have been rumours of a move to Formula One which he has previously described as speculation.

He told the AGM: “I am looking forward to using my energies in a different direction in the future.”

The meeting saw jokes at the expense of rival retailers, with one investor, who said he attended the Marks & Spencer AGM yesterday, saying: “Is there any chance that Mr King could rescue M&S?”

Mr King, who was director of Marks’ food business before joining Sainsbury’s, said: “I have a non-compete clause in my contract and I am very happy to honour that. I don’t intend to be competing with Sainsbury’s.”

There was also laughter at a question from a shareholder called Philip Clarke , the same name as the Tesco boss who has endured a miserable tenure since taking over from long-serving predecessor Sir Terry Leahy.

Mr Clarke said: “I am very sad to see Mr King go and I hope Mr Coupe doesn’t suffer the fortune my namesake has.”

Chairman David Tyler hailed the chief executive as a “guiding light” who had brought “a spring to the step and smile to the face of all our colleagues”.

But on the company’s future, he warned: “The food retail sector is likely to be faced with a tough trading environment for the foreseeable future as customers continue to manage their budgets cautiously and discounters grow their share of the market.”

Mr Coupe acknowledged the challenges facing the grocer amid a rapidly changing retail sector but emphasised continuity with the outgoing boss, saying they had worked together for 10 years.

Mr King said: “I know I leave the business in safe hands.”

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