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Valuing the difference at Sainsbury's

John Rogers, chief financial officer of J Sainsbury

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Despite having come to finance by a rather unusual route – his career began as a missile engineer for British Aerospace – it has taken John Rogers little over five years to rise to chief financial officer of J Sainsbury, the UK’s second-largest supermarket chain and a FTSE 100 business.

“I remember having a conversation with [former CFO] Darren Shapland four years ago and I was saying ‘I don’t envy you in your job. It’s a tough job, isn’t it?’ and he turned round to me and said: ‘I see you as being my successor in the business.’ So that came as a bit of a shock to me,” Rogers tells CFO World in his first interview since taking up the CFO post in July 2010.

At that point he indulged himself in the possibility, concluding that he would indeed cherish the opportunity to become CFO. In terms of attaining the position Rogers was well placed. At the time he was in charge of property – no small responsibility for today’s supermarket – having moved across from finance so his knowledge of the business was broad and deep.

Moreover clearly Sainsbury’s is persuaded by the current trend to nurture talent from within the business, and in Rogers the board found the perfect fit. Prior to his arrival at Sainsbury’s in 2005, Rogers had been group finance director at Hanover Acceptances, a holding company for four operating companies in the real estate, manufacturing, agribusiness, and venture capital. His years as a consultant at Monitor Group and Accenture had also exposed him to different sized businesses across industry sectors with their myriad challenges to overcome.

John Rogers, CFO of Sainsbury's“I didn’t come at it [finance profession] from a finance perspective. It was about business,” he explains.
Under Rogers’ wing as finance chief, not only has Sainsbury’s recently outperformed market expectations but the supermarket has also crushed previous forecasts that brands such as Sainsbury’s and Waitrose would suffer more than lower-cost rivals such as Tesco or Somerfield.

Sainsbury’s has reported sales figures for the three months to June 2011 that comfortably beat those of Tesco. In June, like-for-like sales across the Sainsbury group, excluding fuel, rose by 1.9 percent in the 12 weeks to 11 June, beating Tesco’s 1 percent rise. Underlying sales, excluding VAT and fuel, were also around 1 percent higher while Tesco reported lower underlying sales at 0.1 percent.

Despite these clear successes, Rogers – who is relatively young for a FTSE 100 CFO at 43 years old – shows no trace of smugness. On the contrary he is cautious about the supermarket’s immediate prospects. Like his boss, CEO Justin King, he refers to recent sales figures as merely a “bounce” in what is “a tough environment”.

“The priorities always remain the same. We’ve been managing costs and tightening the business as we go. I guess it’s been a theme of the market over the past two to three years. And that theme has been reinforced with the challenging times and reemphasised the need to continue with those cost savings in the business,” he says.


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