Profile: Roger Burnley

Yorkshire-born Roger Burnley has a lot on his plate in the run up to Christmas. He takes time out to talk to city editor Ros Snowdon.

ROGER Burnley enters the room armed with a cup of tea, a sparkling water and a still water.

He’s correctly guessed that one of them will suit me and hands over the cup of tea, assuring me it hasn’t got any sugar in – right again.

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With this level of foresight you can see how Burnley has managed to transform Sainsbury’s logistics from the worst in the business to one of the best.

We only have 45 minutes for this interview as with less than a fortnight to go before Christmas, Burnley is a very busy man.

As managing director of general merchandise, clothing and logistics, he is the man responsible for ensuring Sainsbury’s shelves are stocked over Christmas.

“Yes it’s manic at the moment, but you aren’t in food retailing if you don’t like this time of year. It’s good fun,” he says.

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“It helps if you don’t need much sleep. Six hours is fine for me.”

He says his nights are about logistics – getting the right food and general merchandise transported to the right stores – and days are spent making sure the stores are running smoothly.

December has become a booze-free month for Burnley as he needs his wits about him.

“I’m not quite teetotal in December, but we save the champagne until Christmas Eve,” he says.

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Over the next week, Sainsbury’s will deliver 28 million cases to its stores in 22,000 deliveries.

“In some ways the whole year is spent planning for Christmas. We’re in very good shape. You’ve got to have fantastic planning and flexibility. The two things we need to react to are the weather and the road network.”

Burnley’s nightmare scenario would be a white Christmas, but he’s prepared for it if it does happen.

“We’ve got 1,200 tonnes of grit and a number of snowploughs of varying types,” he says.

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As part of his geography degree Burnley worked at Leeds weather centre, so he’s up to speed on what to expect weather-wise over the next few weeks.

“It will be seasonably cold, but there isn’t a sizeable amount of snow forecast,” he assures me.

“We’re very confident of having a great Christmas.

“Customers are telling us they want a quality Christmas and to celebrate. We saw that at the Jubilee and the Royal Wedding and that’s what customers are telling us again. We expect a great Christmas that plays to our strengths.”

Sainsbury’s is benefiting from its brand match promise which has reassured customers that they won’t spend more on brands in Sainsbury’s.

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If Tesco, Asda or Morrisons are selling goods more cheaply, Sainsbury’s will print off a voucher at the till with the money off the next shop.

It has come at a time when Sainsbury’s shoppers are prepared to pay for quality but don’t want to feel duped into paying more than they would do at Sainsbury’s rivals.

Burnley says that Christmas best sellers include kids’ toy Moshi Monsters, autobiographies from cyclist Bradley Wiggins, singer Rod Stewart and Girls Aloud star Cheryl Cole, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals, the iPad and Google Nexus tablets, celebrity stylist Gok Wan’s party dresses and lingerie.

So what does Burnley hope Santa will bring him?

“Assuming my kids are reading this, a mini iPad would be on my list!”

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Burnley, who hails from Dewsbury, describes himself as a born and bred Yorkshireman. He attended Heckmondwike Grammar School and now lives in Upper Hopton, near Huddersfield.

Like many other retail directors who hail from Yorkshire, Burnley is one of the ‘Asda Mafia’ – the crew who worked under Archie Norman and Allan Leighton in Leeds-based Asda’s turnaround years.

It’s a reference he doesn’t warm to.

“I don’t see myself as part of that,” he says. “Those days seem long gone. They were great times but I’m now thoroughly orange (a reference to Sainsbury’s orange facia). I’ll have been at Sainsbury’s for seven years in January.”

Sainsbury’s is targeting Yorkshire as an area for development as it is under-represented in the county. It’s a move that Burnley thoroughly approves of.

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“I’m fiercely proud of being a Yorkshireman and I’m fiercely proud of Sainsbury’s and what we do.

“We’ve got 121 stores and 10,000 colleagues in Yorkshire.

“Yes we do have banter when I’m down here (our interview takes place at Sainsbury’s head office in London). There are some people who haven’t ventured north of Watford,” he laughs.

In a typical week Burnley will spend a third of his time in London, a third in Coventry and a third “out and about”.

He goes home at weekends and he’ll try to get back midweek – particularly if his beloved Huddersfield Town are playing.

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“I’m a lifelong season ticket holder. We’re on a roll – just like Sainsbury’s,” he says. Mind you the interview was carried out before his club lost 2-0 to Hull City at the weekend.

Burnley, whose father was a barrister’s clerk in Leeds, joined the B&Q graduate trainee programme after graduating from Bournemouth University.

He then worked his way up to assistant manager, deputy manager and then switched into logistics as a logistics help desk manager.

He joined Asda in 1997, where he was appointed head of logistics development and then director of supply, a job that made him responsible for replenishing all the food, home and leisure products to every Asda store in the UK.

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At the time US retail giant Wal-Mart had recently purchased Asda and Burnley was given the job of integrating logistics.

In 2002 he was headhunted by Matalan where he was appointed supply chain director.

He says he enjoyed the move to a much smaller organisation, but he returned to the supermarket arena in 2006 as Sainsbury’s supply chain director.

Justin King had recently joined as chief executive and Burnley was part of the executive board tasked with “making Sainsbury’s great again” over a three-year period.

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Burnley says there were considerable problems in all areas of the supply chain and it was his job to overhaul the whole system. “At our deadline we were successful,” he says.

He was then appointed retail and logistics director in charge of 456 supermarkets, 23 distribution centres and all of the group’s transport systems.

Sainsbury’s is now outperforming its rivals and is tipped to be the Christmas winner. So if you shop there over the next week spare a thought for Burnley. He’ll be keeping his fingers crossed that, if anything, it’s only his beloved football club that fails to deliver over the festive period.

Judging by recent sales data, it’s looking good.

Roger Burnley Factfile

Job title: Sainsbury’s managing director of general merchandise, clothing and logistics

Born: Dewsbury, 14.06.66

School: Heckmondwike Grammar School

University: Bournemouth University

First job: Graduate trainee, B&Q

Car driven: BMW X6

Favourite holiday destination: The Alps

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption

Last book read: Bradley Wiggins’ autobiography

Favourite band: The Smiths

Most proud of: “Being part of the team that turned Sainsbury’s logistics network from our Achilles’ heel to a big part of our success.”