September 25, 2019 / 4:04 PM / 20 days ago

Sainsbury's boss says committed to business

LONDON (Reuters) - The chief executive of Britain’s Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) has reaffirmed his commitment to leading the supermarket group, saying a major investor event on Wednesday was not a beauty contest for his potential replacement.

FILE PHOTO: Mike Coupe, CEO of Sainsbury's, poses for a portrait at the company headquarters in London, Britain, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Mike Coupe, CEO since 2014, has been under pressure since Britain’s competition regulator in April blocked Sainsbury’s 7.3 billion pound agreed bid for Walmart-owned (WMT.N) rival Asda. That pressure has been compounded by a one third drop in Sainsbury’s share price over the last year.

“I’m committed to the business and there’s plenty that we need to do over the next period of time,” Coupe told reporters before hosting a capital markets day event for investors at a Sainsbury’s store in Southampton, southern England.

Coupe had said in May he would not quit and in July the group’s shareholders overwhelmingly backed his reappointment.

Then in August, in response to a newspaper report, Sainsbury’s reiterated that Coupe had the full support of investors and the board and said it was not talking to internal candidates about succession planning for him.

Wednesday’s investor event featured presentations from three of the executives analysts see as internal candidates to succeed Coupe - group chief financial officer Kevin O’Byrne, retail and operations director Simon Roberts and food commercial director Paul Mills-Hicks.

John Rogers, CEO of Sainsbury’s general merchandise unit Argos, is also seen as a potential candidate.

Ahead of the investor event, Sainsbury’s put cost cutting and paying off debt at the heart of a plan to show it can prosper on its own after the failure of the Asda deal.

The plan also involves moving more Argos stores into Sainsbury’s supermarkets, increasing its number of convenience stores and refocusing the group’s financial services business.

Coupe dismissed the assertion that if the Asda transaction was Sainsbury’s ‘plan A’, it was now falling back on a ‘plan B’.

“I wouldn’t consider it to be a ‘plan B’...What we’ve been talking about today is a continuation of a strategy that we’ve been working towards for five years,” he said.

“We believe that we’re in great shape now to deliver some pretty significant changes in the way that we interact with our customers.”

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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