Mike Coupe served as group CEO of J Sainsbury’s at a time that saw increased competition in the supermarket sector, the ongoing rise of online retail, and unprecedented pressure on the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. In over 30 years working in retail he’s led transformations, acquisitions and growth, and pioneered diversity, digital and sustainability programmes.
Starting his career with consumer products giant Unilever, Mike moved into retail with Tesco. He joined Asda before being appointed MD of Iceland and a director of its parent company Big Food Group. He moved to Sainsbury’s as Trading Director where he was responsible for all consumer-facing activities. He also expanded the prominence of clothing and general merchandise, with a resulting increase in sales, before becoming Group Commercial Director. He then went on to serve as CEO for six years.
With over 2,000 sites and 180,000 employees, and an annual turnover of £32billion, Sainsbury’s is one of the UK’s biggest retail businesses. Dealing in everything from clothes to financial services, it also oversees logistics and manages a diverse property portfolio. During his time in charge Mike directed the extensive digital transformation of Sainsbury’s incorporating both online shopping and the digitisation of the company’s massive Nectar loyalty scheme (which the group acquired from Aimia). He saw online shopping grow from 5% of total sales to over 20%, spearheaded diversity programmes at all levels, and committed the company to achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
As well as running the retail operation, Mike led the acquisition of the Argos chain by the group. The move saw a successful repositioning of Argos as a digital-first retailer, brought valuable click-and-collect traffic into Sainsbury’s stores, and was widely heralded as a success strategically and financially. He also led the attempted acquisition of Asda from the US retailer Walmart. The move was blocked the UK competition authorities with significant implications for bricks and mortar retail and industry consolidation in general.
Mike considers the many lessons from leading a FTSE100 company, from the value of building a world-class team to the challenges of transformation, competition and taking tough decisions. He also looks at the business case for environmental and social responsibility, and how to successfully balance the demands of shareholders, customers and employees in a rapidly changing world.
After leaving Sainsbury’s Mike applied his experience in supply chain strategy and logistics to serve as Director of Testing at the NHS Test and Trace service, becoming a board member of NHS England as well. He was later appointed chairman of furniture retailer Oak Furnitureland.