The man with the reverse of the Midas-touch cannot go soon enough. His GM investments are in meltdown, his family business is underperforming, and he has done his best to push UK science in a disastrous direction while corrupting the political process by massively financially-backing his employer - the UK's dysfunctional Prime Minister - up to the hilt.
For more on Sainsbury see: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=116&page=S
See also: Biotech firms linked to Sainsbury trust hit cash trouble Daily Telegraph - Apr 14, 2004 http://www.money.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2004/04/15/cnbio15.xml&menuId=242&sSheet=/money/2004/04/15/ixfrontcity.html
Lord Sainsbury expected to quit DTI
Monday May 3, 2004
There is a growing expectation that Lord Sainsbury, the Labour peer and patriarch of the supermarket group, is preparing to quit his controversial position as science and innovation minister at the next general election in order to put more of his time into trying to rebuild the troubled family business.
Last night the Department of Trade tried to stifle the speculation, insisting Lord Sainsbury had no plans to go. But reports over the weekend, indicating that he had told friends that he was frustrated at not being able to influence the future direction of the group, have led to immediate predictions that it may be taken private after losing market share and watching its share price fall 30% over the past two years.
Lord Sainsbury's frustrations, stemming from the fact that his direct 13% shareholding remains locked up in a blind trust, could also encourage outsiders to launch a takeover bid for the chain, which is facing a fresh competitive squeeze after Morrisons' recent acquisition of rival Safeway.
The Labour peer was chairman of Sainsbury's for six years until he was lured into the Department of Trade and Industry at the end of 1998. His apparent disillusionment with politics coincides with the waning of Tony Blair's power following the Iraq war and other setbacks. During Labour's first term Lord Sainsbury was given a rough ride in parliament over his interest in genetically modified technology and his status as a leading financial donor to the Labour party.
Any attempt to become more involved in the day-to-day running of the supermarkets is likely to face internal resistance. Lord Sainsbury's chairmanship of the company was not a runaway success and a new management regime has just been put in place, with Sir Peter Davies moving up to become chairman on March 29 and Justin King, the former Marks & Spencer head of foods, replacing Sir Peter as chief executive.
There is already talk of rifts inside the Sainsbury family, which in total controls 28% of the business. Some members are arguing that now is the time to sell up, while others believe more time should be given to reap the rewards of a hefty investment programme.
"Lord Sainsbury's holding and his attitude to the group's future are obviously key and reports that he wants out of politics so he is free to shape events are clearly accurate," one well placed City source said yesterday. "This will ignite speculation. His stake is the key to the family's holding, which in turn delivers almost a third of the company."
Yet the DTI insisted its minister was not going to leave. "I spoke to Lord Sainsbury this morning and he said he was happy in his job and had no plans to quit," said a DTI spokesman last night.
A Sainsbury spokeswoman declined to comment on the situation, insisting it was mere "rumour and speculation".
Sainsbury's reported a 0.2% fall in like for like sales for the period from January to the end of March and warned 2004 profits would fall short of last year's.
In the 1980s Lord Sainsbury - then plain David Sainsbury and a particular fan of David Owen - bankrolled the new Social Democrat Party. He switched to Labour following its move to centre ground under Mr Blair.
The peer's interest in science stems from his days as a psychology student at Cambridge, when he was fascinated by breakthroughs being made in the study of DNA. He has long been a major supporter of GM technology but faced persistent calls for his resignation as the row over GM crops in Britain intensified.