Former superstore superstar - and winner of MT's Most Admired leader crown - Justin King is to join private equity house Terra Firma, owner of Odeon cinemas and Wyevale garden centres.
Since he left Sainsbury’s last year after a decade in charge (and nine straight years of growth), there has been much speculation as to what King’s next move would be. He's taken on a few bits and pieces - including an indpendent review of troubled holiday outfit Thomas Cook, and he was even briefly tipped to take over the wheel at Formula One.
Despite all the interest in his future, the man himself has always claimed to be in no hurry to make his mind up, saying gnomically ‘I’ll know my next job when I see it.’
Well the job that has finally caught his eye is the vice chairman’s seat at private equity veteran Terra Firma, whose chairman and founder is none other than perhaps the UK's most famous financier, Guy Hands. (Hands is probably best known for his firm’s spectacular $2.5bn bath on the takeover of EMI back in the day, but that aside he has an impressive track record as an investor).
King is expected to take over the day-to-day responsibility for Terra Firma’s extensive (not to say eclectic) portfolio, which also includes aircraft leasing, motorway service stations, care homes and a growing interest in renewable energy businesses. He's also expected to be involved in future fundraisings. Does this hint at a reduced role for Hands himself, or just a return to the days when he could spend more of his time thinking up brand new gold-plated investment strategies?
For King, stepping from the hot seat into this somewhat lower profile spot could be seen as a sideways move. But there’s no doubt that his outstanding operational abilities will be put to good use at TF, whose record of sales has perhaps not been as good as it might be recently - after a pulled attempt a couple of years ago, Odeon is reportedly being spruced up for for a sale once again.
King, who departed Sainsbury’s just in time to dodge Aldi, Lidl and the other troubles which have beset the sector subsequently, has already demonstrated that he possesses one of the key private equity attributes - great timing. If he wants to learn the industry’s other secrets, there can be few better teachers than Hands.