Retailers have paid tribute to outgoing Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King and welcomed the appointment of industry veteran Mike Coupe.

Iceland founder Malcolm Walker told Retail Week he had the “greatest respect” for King, who has put Sainsbury’s, widely recognised as a basket case when King joined in 2004, on a “solid footing”.

Walker said: “He has done an amazing job. He even had the nerve to turn me down for a job at Iceland. He obviously moved on to bigger and better things.”

Former Asda boss Allan Leighton, who worked with King at the Leeds-based grocer, said: “Justin has done a great job. I’ve known him for a long time, he’s a very smart guy with a great human touch which is the perfect combination.

“Sainsbury’s was not in great shape when he took over and now it is in a great financial, market and people position.”

Former Tesco executive Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe said: “Justin King was a great competitor and the improvements he made to Sainsbury’s spurred others in the industry, like Tesco where I was an executive, to do better.

“He will be missed as a positive and challenging voice in the retail industry and a popular figure when he visited Parliament.”

Former Asda chief executive Archie Norman, who worked with both King and Coupe, said:  “Justin has got lots of energy and is into the granular detail. He knows every number in Sainsbury’s and is a great leader too.

“Mike is very knowledgeable and calm. He has been formative to their success in the last few years so it will be an evolution rather than revolution.”

Moira Benigson, chief executive of executive search firm The MBS Group which helped King build his top team, said: “At one of my annual inspirational cups of tea with Archie Norman, he said to me that Justin King is the most articulate chief executive in the FTSE.  

“If you watched him on Question Time, you would have to agree.  Having known Justin since he was about 28 I have watched him become an exceptional leader who steered Sainsbury’s through the most challenging time in its history and he made it great again.”  

Coupe’s appointment, which comes after seven years with the retailer, was welcomed.

Leighton added: “Mike is a great leader, he was always going to be a big four chief executive because he’s great on the supplier side as well as the merchant side.”

Shore Capital analyst Clive Black said: We believe that Mr. Coupe has been very effective in his commercial role, proving to be astute to the market conditions and extolling the virtues of Sainsbury’s offer in challenging times to its customers.”

Neville-Rolfe added: “I like Mike Coupe and especially enjoyed working with him on foot and mouth and the fuel crisis. I wish him very well and look forward to hearing his plans for this long established British business.”

Korn Ferry head of retail Sally Elliott said: “With a broad remit making him responsible for all aspects of trading, customer insights, consumer marketing and store development, [Coupe] was ideally positioned to take the top job.”