After several years of continuity at the top of Retail Week’s Power List, 2012 is the second year in a row we’ve had a change in the number one slot.

After several years of continuity at the top of Retail Week’s Power List, 2012 is the second year in a row we’ve had a change in the number one slot.

The crowning of Sainsbury’s Justin King as retail’s most powerful figure is not so much a reflection on those he has leap-frogged to claim the top spot, but more to do with the stellar year the gregarious grocery boss has had.

The Power List is one of the most hotly debated publications we produce each year. In the run-up to the final discussion, we were inundated with tweets, emails and phone calls arguing for this personality or that. The debate that ensued among the Retail Week team was equally heated.

Much of it this year centred on the nature of power, where it lay and how it manifested itself in the ability of those on the list to shape the retail landscape.

Financial scale and customer base were important, as was the momentum that comes from a commercially successful 12 months. But just as significant was how that power was wielded, both to further respective businesses and to promote the cause of British retail in general. Retail remains a fiercely competitive sector, but it is also shaped by ­common causes and shared values. In such turbulent times, never has the need for the industry’s leaders to shape public policy and consumer sentiment been more important.

King’s coronation at the top of the list is a sign of these times. Not only has he led the company to a 10-year market share high, delivering sales and profits growth along the way, but he has successfully captured the consumer zeitgeist when so many others are still making sense of the rapidly changing customer landscape.

Moreover, alongside the likes of Lord Wolfson, Ian Cheshire and last year’s top dog, Charlie Mayfield, in public and in private, the Sainsbury’s boss has led the vanguard that has reflected the sector’s interests or shaped the debate.

The switch at the top isn’t the only noteworthy change from last year. The number of casualties and upsets on the high street in the past 12 months has led to some high-­profile exits from the list, such as Richard Brasher of Tesco. Meanwhile, the collective power of the disrupters – those businesses and personalities causing the rapid evolution of the sector – continues to mount.

Nothing demonstrates the scale of change in British retail more than the continuing rise of mould-breakers such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon and John Browett of Apple, while more traditional names fall away. Who’d bet against further change next year?