Quiet Coupe Replaces King

King and Coupe preparing for succession Photo Courtesy: Graham Flack http://grahamflack.photoshelter.com

King and Coupe preparing for succession
Photo: Graham Flack http://grahamflack.photoshelter.com

Not a military coup, but certainly a new regime at Sainsbury’s. After ten years as CEO Justin King has announced his abdication but will be a formidable act to follow. Having achieved 36 quarters of growth and a trebeling of profits, he is to be replaced by the current Commercial Director Mike Coupe. Cynics might say that he has seen industry headwinds gathering and has jumped while the going’s good. Others that it’s  just good succession planning.

Whatever the case, an interesting feature about the hand-over is the stark contrast between the incumbent and his successor. King is flamboyant, perma-tanned, media savvy and comes across well on both TV and the shop floor. No shrinking violet, he swapped his £80,000 Maserati for an £88,000 Lexus hybrid to show his green credentials in  support of Sainsbury’s ethical values. Coupe is detailed, self-deprecating, sensitive and down-to-earth; apparently, he always has fish and chips on a Friday. His style is typified by his penchant for anonymous trips down the isles of competitors and taking his bike or a train wherever he can.

In spite of these marked differences in style, both are seen as appropriate leaders for one of the UK’s top 100 corporations. Coupe is thought to have had as much, if not more, input to the Sainsbury’s recovery strategy as King and both are considered to have a great balance between understanding the detail and letting people get on with things their own way.

Although it will be tough to maintain profits and to continue the growth of the last few years, observers feel that Coupe’s understanding of e-commerce will enable Sainsbury’s to at least have a chance. However, he is unlikely to have as much headroom as King when he took over in 2004.

For leaders everywhere, this illustrates the need to consider whether they are the right person for the current and impending business context. 

It also illustrates that leadership comes in many different guises – each person needs to use their own strengths.

To the phrase “commeth the hour, commeth the man”, we should probably add “if only you can find the right one”.



  1. Charles Hume · · Reply

    Not just different leadership but leadership in pairs. If King had Coupe, who will be Coupe’s King?

    Charles Hume
    Chief Executive
    The Shipowners’ Protection Limited

    1. Excellent point Charles – will be interesting to see if anyone emerges for the role and a good reminder of the importance of peer support whether it comes from an internal source or external person or group of some form. As you know, I’m a big believer in the importance of strong peer relationships in business leadership so a timely reminder of the significance. Thanks…

  2. hpartnership2013 · · Reply

    A very interesting contrast in what are often seen to be the two extremes of leadership style. Too often people feel they have to ‘be someone else’ to be an effective leader, or try too hard to copy an effective role model who has a completely different style. This is a good reminder of the need to find your own way – everyone can develop greater effectiveness, of course, but it’s crucial to retain your authenticity. That’s what shows through in the end.

    1. Thanks Penny – authenticity rules – so to speak!

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