King will be succeeded by Mike Coupe, currently group commercial director.
“This was not an easy decision for me to make, and in truth it will never feel like the right time to leave a company like Sainsbury,” said King. “It has been a privilege to have led the company for the past 10 years and I am incredibly proud of our achievements in that time.”
It was the 157,000 colleagues that made Sainsbury’s so special, continued King. “I would like to thank them for their amazing efforts over the past decade in making Sainsbury’s great again. I am confident that under Mike’s leadership the business will go from strength to strength.”
‘A truly exceptional leader’
David Tyler, Sainsbury’s chairman, described King as “a truly exceptional leader”. King had reshaped Sainsbury's during his 10 years as ceo and played a leading role in the sector and wider business world, he added.
“The board thanks him for his outstanding achievements in ‘Making Sainsbury’s Great Again’. He leaves a lasting legacy, with the company stronger than ever.”
Tyler went on to praise ceo designate Coupe’s “unique talent and experience” and looked foreward to him leading the next chapter in the retailer’s history. No one knew Sainsbury – or the industry – better than Coupe, he added. Coupe had worked closely with King over the past decade and, with his proven track record of success, was the natural choice to take the company forward.
Outperforming the market
Coupe paid tribute to King’s management, which had resulted in the retailer consistently outperforming the market, he said.
King will stand down as ceo at Sainsbury’s annual general meeting on July 9 2014.
The news contradicts King’s pledge earlier this month to remain at the helm of Sainsbury – at least in the short- to medium-term. “I’ve said that I’m closer to the end of my time than the start. But I still have plenty of legs left in me yet,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on January 8.
The retailer’s third quarter results for the 14 weeks to January 4 2014 were greeted with relief by City analysts earlier this month. Shore Capital’s Clive Black and Darren Shirley said they were “pleased and relieved” to see Sainsbury continue to post positive like-for-like sales (excluding fuel) – albeit just so.
In November 2013, Sainsbury claimed to have overtaken Asda to become the UK’s second biggest supermarket. But, on some measures, Sainsbury was now the UK’s foremost supermarket, claimed King.