That is the risk Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King seems prepared to take after leading his supermarket through the economic storm to record its best Christmas ever while most rivals struggled.
With King tipped to return to his old stomping ground of Marks & Spencer to replace outgoing Sir Stuart Rose as chief executive, the Channel 4 series, I’m Running Sainsbury’s, could add yet more polish to his increasingly gleaming reputation. Or it could make him look a complete fool.
Filming has already begun on the show, to be broadcast in the summer, in which King’s staff are offered the chance to step up the management chain – and potentially into the shoes of the boss himself.
‘Plenty of people at work spend all day moaning about the boss. The premise of this programme is to take them at their word and see if they can do any better,’ said a Channel 4 spokesman. King will be at the mercy of the TV professionals for this four-part series. At best, Sainsbury’s could come across as an open, honest business with nothing to hide. At worst, we could be left cringing on the sofa.
‘It’s a brave move and if they don’t let the production company run amok this could bring a turbo boost for the company over the summer,’ said celebrity publicist Mark Borkowski.
‘However, it’s ego and hubris that can cause the problems. You have to be aware that difficulties are going to arise when you least expect them.’
After struggling to operate a till, fumbling hopelessly as he tried to peel money-off stickers from produce and destroying a bottle of salad cream, he was quizzed by staff on his pay.
‘It’s a lot of money I agree,’ he said to stunned staff of his £500,000-a-year salary.
Their jaws might have dropped further if they’d known that even as a rounded-down estimate that was on the conservative side.
Luke Johnson, now chairman of Channel 4, was at the other end of the lens in the following series as boss of restaurant chain Belgo.
After his meltdown over the daily quibbles of staff he told producers where they could ‘stick’ their programme as he stormed out of camera shot.
That reaction seems mild compared with that of the three brothers who ran AMT Coffee kiosks. After appearing on a BBC2 series fronted by former Granada boss Sir Gerry Robinson called I’ll Show Them Who’s Boss they threatened to sue the corporation, while in a episode entitled Arsenic And Old Lace Robinson suggested the boss of a Nottingham lace maker should sack himself, which he did.
Others, however, have had more success. Millwall Football Club chairman Theo Paphitis’s appearance on Back To The Floor led to him being approached with the offer of a part in Dragons’ Den.
For Sainsbury’s, the series is an opportunity for publicity – not only to woo potential shoppers, but to give staff an endearing image of their employer.
Though the deal has already been agreed, negotiations between Channel 4, Sainsbury’s and production company Silver River on the details of the format are still being hammered out.
Up to ten staff have been selected and four will make the final cut. Sainsbury’s will hope that any major blunders will be left on the cutting room floor.
Sainsbury’s is getting used to uncertainty. Even its finance director admitted last week that forecasting the economy in the second half of this year was a fool’s errand.
He must be hoping that his boss knows what he is doing. If not, however, a star from the shop floor may be there to replace him.