Mike Coupe of Sainsburys shows how to deal with the media, avoids tricky questions

MIke CoupeMike Coupe, the CEO of Sainsburys, was on the BBC’s Wake up to money programme this week. His main objective was to present his company’s decision to pay employees a living wage.  He skilfully kept away from several potential pratfalls

It was an easy ride for the confident sounding CEO.  [I might recommend him for student study, I thought.]

Parson’s hand grenades

The interviewer, the thoroughly well-prepped Adam Parsons, had a few obligatory hand grenades to lob across the table.  The interviewee defused them skillfully.

The questions and answers

Basic wage payment? Part of a long term plan

Supermarkets screwing farmers over milk prices?  Some do, we don’t

Petrol prices at store are loss leaders.  Prices very competitive and (of course) good for the customers

Would your shareholders say you are paying out a lot of money?  [That’s an interesting question, I thought.]  I waited for a standard answer about Corporate Social Responsibility.  Instead, Mr Coupe briskly made his only obvious venture into Corporate speak territory.  He referred to the importance of maintaining the company’s reputation of having the highest level of customer satisfaction and the importance of motivated ‘inward facing staff’. In other words, the pay rise could be justified in financial terms in the long run.

Overall  impact of the interview

Mr Coupe would have been pleased to have kept away from contextual issues such as the tough trading conditions at Sainsburys, the recent laying off of nearly a thousand of those ‘inward facing’ employees as part of an efficiency drive, and pressures accompanying the decision to introduce the modest wage rise.

His answers were clear, coherent and confident.  If I had one concern, they seemed too well-prepared, too quickly delivered.  Getting leaders to sound empathetic  is harder than preparing them to deliver  a convincing rational set of answers in role playing  rehearsal. Terry Leahy when boss of Tesco managed it well, although Sir Terry’s style was more informal and a little warmer.

Student discussion questions

How would you evaluate the interview from the perspective of a media coach?

From Mike Coupe’s perspective?

From the interviewer’s  perspective?

Background materials

BBC’s summary of the interview

Management Today’s interview with Mike Coupe

Is the wage rise ‘a publicity stunt’?

 

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