“I’d fire a store manager for bad Talkback over poor sales results”– Sainsbury’s boss Justin King on business culture

Sainsbury’s outgoing CEO Justin King and United Biscuits CEO Martin Glen have stressed that an organisation’s culture is the foundation for a company’s success.

Speaking on a panel at Advertising Week Europe, moderated by Oystercatchers founder Suki Thompson, King said a strong internal culture has to “come from the heart”, revealing that he would be more likely to fire a store manager who failed to produce decent knowledge of the company in its Talkback internal questionnaire, over poor sale results.

“I’d fire a store manager for bad Talkback, which is our way of measuring if they are living our values, long before I’d fire someone for having poor sales results,” he said.

United Biscuits boss Glen added an employee that is a team player rather than a “lone ranger” who can only work in isolation was key to maintaining a strong culture. “If they are fundamentally a bit shit, or a lone ranger and all about their own goals and not the team’s then they have got to go,” he said.

Meanwhile the two CEOs also spoke of the occasional power struggle that can arise between retailers and manufacturers. Glen called the relationship between the two a “power game”, but added that UK retailers outshone those on the continent when it came to helping manufacturers grow their businesses.

King also admitted there has traditionally been “conflicts of interests” between manufacturers and retailers, adding that retailers would get angry when manufacturers would work with a competitor.

“But I believe you win by running faster than your competitor, not by working out some way of spiking his drink so he can’t perform," he said.

Thompson also questioned the pair on their partnerships with agencies, referring to Sainsbury’s long-standing relationship with AMV BBDO.

King admitted that at the start the agency wasn’t doing a good job with its marketing, but rather than take the approach of firing it the retailer chose to challenge it to prove that it deserved the account, adding that it was preferable to keep an agency that knows the business better than hiring a new one.

“I fundamentally believe brands get the agencies they deserve…. If they are bad then they are reflecting the inadequacies of your own business,” he added.

King is due to step down from his role as CEO of Sainsbury’s later this year, following a decade at the helm.

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