Sainsbury: making bad news taste better

Hats off to Sainsbury's; Justin King's green limo was a good way to bury the 'arrested buyer' story...

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

It emerged on Sunday that one of Sainsbury’s senior potato buyers has been arrested on suspicion of taking bribes from a supplier. John Maylam is apparently being questioned by police about pocketing up to £3m from Greenvale, the company that supplies about 45% of Sainsbury’s potatoes (who’d have thought there was so much money in spuds).

So we were amused when, a few hours later, a story appeared on the BBC website featuring CEO Justin King talking about his new environmentally-friendly limousine, complete with pictures and quotes from the man himself. In other words, just the kind of touchy-feely story you want to see about your chief exec at a time when your company finds itself in the papers for all the wrong reasons.

Apparently King, a ‘self-confessed petrol-head’, has just treated himself to a new £88,000 Lexus petrol-electric hybrid limousine (and traded in his Maserati), so he can make the most of the 20-odd hours he spends commuting from the Midlands every week. The BBC reports that he chose the Lexus rather than a more ostentatious Rolls-Royce and Bentley after he ‘spent ages comparing their environmental credentials’. ‘I want to be as discreet as possible,’ says King – as he posed alongside the car for pictures that would take pride of place on the country’s most widely-read website.

And he’s not finished there. Sainsbury’s has also agreed to buy a fleet of 400 Toyota Prius hybrids (clearly only the boss gets the Lexus) ‘in a move towards cleaner and greener motoring for its staff’. All very admirable.

Meanwhile Maylam is ‘helping the authorities with their enquiries’, along with one of Greenvale’s directors – and given that various other Greenvale execs have also been suspended, this appears to have been a fairly sizeable scam (the Competition Commission is currently investigating claims that supermarkets are bullying their suppliers – perhaps they’re barking up the wrong tree).

Now of course only a cynic would go so far as to suggest that the ‘Sainsbury’s cars go green’ story was deliberately placed by the supermarket in order to deflect attention from the Maylam story – no doubt the Justin jolly had been lined up for some time, and the fact that it appeared yesterday was a complete coincidence.

But either way, the timing was rather serendipitous, wasn’t it? If we were Sainsbury’s PR team we’d definitely be taking all the credit for it…

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