Speaking at Advertising Week Europe in a session with United Biscuits boss Martin Glenn and hosted by the Oystercatchers, Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King talked brands (and why a good kicking can be ok), plus building a company culture, the role of the marketer - and sociopaths.
You can still give brand manufacturers a big kicking - but only if it’s within the construct of a mutually beneficial relationship
King said that historically retailer-manufacturer relationships had been flawed.
"It was about making money off consumers," explained King. "The truest manifestation of that was when a category partner would suggest a delisting of another company’s brand.
"This would mean that the category was sub-optimum for the consumer but there was payback for the retailer as the manufacturer would offer [competitive margins]."
He said that in the early days there had been a lot of industry in-fighting.
"It was all about us shouting at the manufacturers, saying, ‘how dare you work with our 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."
King said his ambition was always that Sainsbury’s would be the customer of choice for manufacturers - so much so, it is a "bonusable measure".
"It then becomes a relationship of mutual benefit with the manufacturer, not mutual dependency. You can still give them a big kicking - but only if it’s within the construct of the relationship."
Building company culture
King’s three tips for building a strong company culture were to ensure it came from the heart, great communication and celebrating those within the business who are truly living the culture.
"Culture has to come from the heart. You have to live it and be measured on it - you can’t fake sincerity. I would fire a store manager for bad Talkback [Sainsbury’s staff questionnaire] long before I’d fire them for poor sales results."
Martin Glenn, chief executive of United Biscuits, added: "If people are fundamentally shit, or a bully or such a lounger that it’s all about their goals and no one else’s, then they’ve got to go."
Role of the marketer
According to King, it is the role of the marketing director to ensure that consumers remain the focal point for companies
People only sleep well at night if they have a clear conscience or they are sociopaths. As we’re both CEOs, you can draw your own conclusions
"The reason a lot of marketing directors have a tough job is because a lot of organisation don’t really put the customer at the heart of every decision. The marketing director is the official conduit between the company and the customer."
King added: "The job of the PR is often to paper over the cracks of examples where a business is not doing everything for the customer. The marketer is the person who sits in the room always thinking of the customer at the heart of everything. And we need that person to be resolute in that."
Up all night to get lucky
When asked by Oystercatchers founder Suki Thompson, "what keeps you up at night?", both King and Glenn said they slept well.
"I take work very seriously but I’m able to switch off," said Glenn. "You need that balance and it helps to have some sense of detachment. So not much keeps me awake."
King responded: "People only sleep well at night if they have a clear conscience or they are sociopaths. As we’re both CEOs, you can draw your own conclusions."
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