Succession planning can be make or break for retailers - as Sainsbury’s gears up for change at the top, will its new leaders be good enough?

May’s job change highlights:

  1. Sainsbury’s managing director of general merchandise, clothing and logistics Roger Burnley was promoted to the role of retail and operations director.
  2. Helen Buck became Sainsbury’s new business development director reporting to incoming chief executive Mike Coupe.
  3. Online bike retailer Wiggle hired Giles David as its new chief financial officer.
  4. Barry Brown stepped down from his role as chief executive of JD Sports after 30 years at the company.
  5. Carpetright named Wilf Walsh, former chairman of sports betting group Fortuna Entertainment, as its new chief executive.

Transition planning is one of the most important, and perilous, aspects of organisational management. Get it right and the move from one regime to another can be a seamless process where the only noticeable change is the name on the boss’s door. Get it wrong and the ties that bound together an organisation for years can unravel in a matter of months (just ask Manchester United and David Moyes).

Only time will tell whether Mike Coupe is able to slip smoothly into the hot seat soon to be vacated by Justin King at Sainsbury’s, but all the signs are that the retailer has paid considerable attention to managing the change as effectively as possible. The last month has seen six new appointments at director level, all of which are internal promotions as befits Sainsbury’s ethos of developing and promoting its own talent.

The hugely competent Roger Burnley has moved from managing director of general merchandise, clothing and logistics to assume the role of Sainsbury’s retail and operations director where he will be Coupe’s chief lieutenant directing operational matters.

Former retail director Helen Buck has been promoted to business development director where she will be responsible for building Sainsbury’s business in non-core areas such as Sainsbury’s Mobile and Sainsbury’s Energy. Buck will also be responsible for developing Sainsbury’s Online business where her team will be led by Robbie Feather, who has left his role as business unit director for general merchandise & entertainment to become director of online.

Elsewhere, Paul Mills-Hicks has been promoted from business unit director for grocery to Sainsbury’s operating board as food commercial director; business unit director for clothing, James, Brown, has stepped up to director of non-food trading and Dean Clegg has assumed the role of property director having previously been director of store development.

Coupe has been heavily involved in developing Sainsbury’s succession plan and by the time he takes office on 9 July he will be surrounded by people he trusts to implement his vision for the business. That’s not to suggest that promoting from within is the key to effective succession planning; sometimes an outsider with a fresh outlook and a willingness to challenge the status quo is just what a business needs. But with Sainsbury’s continuing to perform solidly in a challenging grocery market it’s surely a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

See above for last month’s job move highlights, and the table on the right for a complete list of who went where.

Tony Gregg is chief executive of the Anthony Gregg Partnership

The Anthony Gregg Partnership

Founded in 2003 and located in Henley-in-Arden and London, The Anthony Gregg Partnership specialises in the consumer search market space.

You can call Tony Gregg on 01564 796830 or email him at

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