TRibutes have poured in for Sainsbury’s boss Justin King on his final day in charge of the business.
A plaudit from life president Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover was one of a series for Mr King, who departed after a decade, at the retail chain’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 Bradford-based 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 of shareholders attending the 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 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 asking: “Is there any chance that Mr King could rescue M&S?”
Mr King, who was director of Marks & Spencer’s 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.”
Mr King announced he was going in January, in an unusually long corporate goodbye.