Sainsbury’s taps grandee Scicluna to steer £15bn Asda merger

(c) Sky News 2018: <a href="http://news.sky.com/story/sainsbury8217s-taps-grandee-scicluna-to-steer-16315bn-asda-merger-11432389">Sainsbury’s taps grandee Scicluna to steer £15bn Asda merger</a>
 

The City grandee who leads RSA, the FTSE-100 insurer, is being lined up as the next chairman of J Sainsbury (Other OTC: JSAIY - news) , as it tries to steer through a £15bn merger with Asda to create Britain’s biggest food retailer.

Sky News has learnt that Martin Scicluna, a veteran of blue-chip boardrooms, has been picked to succeed David Tyler.

An announcement about the appointment of Mr Tyler's successor could be made as early as Wednesday, when Sainsbury (Amsterdam: SJ6.AS - news) 's holds its annual meeting in London, according to people close to the company.

Assuming Mr Scicluna, who also chairs the property company Great Portland Estates (Frankfurt: A0B53H - news) , is confirmed in the role, the news is likely to be welcomed by investors, some of whom have expressed scepticism about the proposed merger of Asda and Sainsbury's.

It was unclear on Tuesday when exactly Mr Scicluna would take the helm of the company.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an in-depth inquiry into the merger, which will create a retail behemoth with 2,800 stores across Britain.

News of the proposed deal, which was confirmed in late April, sent shockwaves through an industry already contending with the fallout from a string of restructurings which have triggered tens of thousands of job losses.

The merger will see Leeds-based Asda valued at £7.3bn, with the chain's current US owner Walmart paid £3bn in cash and given a 42% stake in the combined business.

That structure is expected to see Walmart reduce its stake over a multi-year period and potentially exit the UK grocery industry altogether following a long period in which Asda's low-price positioning has been eroded by the growth of discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

Executives have said there are no plans to close stores or cut jobs as a consequence of the deal, which is expected to deliver operational savings of £500m.

The companies have pledged that customers will see benefits including price cuts of up to 10% on many of the products that go into the weekly shop of millions of UK households.

Both the Asda and Sainsbury's brands will be retained.

The merger has also attracted the scrutiny of MPs (BSE: MPSLTD.BO - news) such as Rachel Reeves, the chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee.

She (Munich: SOQ.MU - news) said when news of the deal emerged: "The CMA is right to investigate this potential merger between two powerful supermarket players."

Sky News revealed last September - more than seven months before the Asda merger became public - that Sainsbury's was hunting a successor to Mr Tyler.

Great Portland Estates announced in May that Mr Scicluna would step down next year, while he has also chaired RSA since 2013.

His past boardroom roles include stints at Lloyds Banking Group and Worldpay.

He was also a partner at Deloitte, the professional services firm, where he spent more than three decades.

Although his career has not involved hands-on retail experience, Mr Scicluna's directorships in related sectors such as payments and commercial property will offer a relevant backdrop to the chairmanship of Sainsbury's.

Crucially, he is regarded as a safe pair of hands by City institutions, having helped steer RSA through a difficult period after he took over.

The UK's grocery sector has already been subject to a significant shake-up as a result of last year's £3.7bn takeover of Booker Group (LSE: BOK.L - news) by Tesco (Frankfurt: 852647 - news) , while Wm Morrison is said to be lining up to acquire scores of stores that a combined Asda and Sainsbury's may have to sell following a CMA inquiry.

Britain's traditional retail industry is under enormous pressure from the prolific growth of online rivals which are not saddled by the fixed costs of bricks and mortar‎ players.

The related financial burden of business rates has again been thrown into sharp focus in recent weeks by industry figures including Dave Lewis, the Tesco chief executive.

Sainsbury's proposed merger with Asda has elicited sceptical noises from some investors but is being backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, which holds a 25% stake in Sainsbury's having bought into the chain more than a decade ago.

If concluded, a deal‎ would be the most significant in the UK's food retailing sector since Wm Morrison bought Safeway to give it a UK-wide presence in 2004.

Sainsbur‎y's has itself been acquisitive in recent years, snapping up Argos and examining takeovers of wholesale businesses such as Palmer & Harvey, which collapsed into administration last year.

Mike Coupe, the Sainsbury's chief executive, will lead the combined group if the Asda merger goes through.

Announcing first-quarter results which disappointed some analysts last week, Mr Coupe said the merger would "create a dynamic new player in UK retail, with the scale to give customers more of what they want today and create a more resilient and adaptable business for the future".

He added that the deal would be financed with a £3.5bn lending agreement secured on attractive terms which reflected "the confidence of the lending banks in the outlook for the proposed combined business".

Sainsbury's, which has been advised by Egon Zehnder International on its search for a new chairman, declined to comment on Tuesday.