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Sainsbury’s to get retail boss Roberts as CEO

Simon Roberts, Retail and Operations Director of Sainsbury's, poses for a portrait at the company headquarters in London, Britain (REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo).

MIKE COUPE will step down as CEO of Sainsbury’s at the end of May after six years at the helm, with Britain’s second largest supermarket group opting for continuity by choosing retail director Simon Roberts as his successor.

Coupe has faced questions about his future since April when Britain’s competition regulator blocked Sainsbury’s attempt to take over Walmart-owned rival Asda for £7.3 billion. Coupe was the architect of that deal and Sainsbury’s share price has fallen 22 per cent over the last year.

Roberts, 48, is a former managing director of health and beauty retailer Boots.

He joined Sainsbury’s in 2017.

“This has been a very difficult decision for me personally,” said Coupe. “There is never a good time to move on, but as we and the industry continue to evolve, I believe now is the right time for me to hand over to my successor.”

Roberts’ appointment to one of the highest profile jobs in British retail raises the question of whether he will adapt Sainsbury’s strategy that was set out in September and was designed to show the group could prosper on its own.

Sainsbury’s profit is forecast to fall in its 2019-20 financial year.

Roberts’ task will be to grow earnings in the face of softening consumer demand and the relentless march of German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl, which continue to aggressively open new stores and win market share.

“Simon has been extremely effective during his three years at Sainsbury’s, leading our store teams through great change in that time,” said Chairman Martin Scicluna.

“Simon is a dedicated, determined and enthusiastic champion of the customer and of our colleagues and has overseen sustained improvements in our competitiveness during his time so far.”

His appointment means Britain’s two biggest supermarket groups – market leader Tesco and Sainsbury’s – will be run by Boots alumni.

Ken Murphy, a former joint chief operating officer at Boots UK & Ireland, will succeed Dave Lewis as CEO of Tesco in the summer.

Before joining Sainsbury’s, Roberts was executive vice president of Walgreens Boots Alliance and president of its Boots unit. Prior to that, he was managing director of Boots UK, where he was responsible for leading retail and pharmacy activities in over 2,500 stores across the UK and Ireland.

Earlier in his career, Roberts spent 14 years at clothing and food retailer Marks & Spencer, where he had roles in stores and operations.

“I am really excited about working together with our 178,000 colleagues to become one multi brand, multi channel business,” said Roberts.

Sainsbury’s said Coupe would remain a director from June 1 until the annual shareholders’ meeting on July 2, at which point he will retire from the company.