Friday 15 August 2014

Men of Yore: John James Sainsbury

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

John James Sainsbury

John James Sainsbury (12 June 1844 – 1928) was the founder of the Sainsbury's supermarket chain.
Early and private life
John James Sainsbury was born on 12 June 1844 at 5 Oakley Street, Lambeth, to John Sainsbury (baptised 1809, d. 1863), ornament and picture frame maker, and his wife Elizabeth Sarah, née Coombes (1817–1902).[1] During his childhood, his family moved house several times between rented rooms. The area in which they lived was close to the Thames wharves and to Waterloo station, which opened in 1848.
John James started work at the age of 14. He may have stayed at school beyond the normal leaving age of 10 or 11, possibly helping out as a "monitor". His first job was with a grocer in the New Cut, Lambeth.[1]
In 1863, John James's father died and John James took on the additional responsibility of helping to support his mother and two sisters.
At the age of 24, he married Mary Ann Staples and they set up a dairy shop together at 173 Drury Lane, Holborn.[1] The couple had probably saved a few pounds with which to buy shop equipment but their circumstances were extremely modest. They shared the cramped accommodation above the little shop with three other families.[1]
Business career
Throughout his life, John James avoided personal publicity and little evidence remains of his character. His business style was to offer competitive prices while, at the same time, demonstrating higher standards of quality, service, and hygiene.[1]
From one store in Holborn, London, opened at 173 Drury Lane in 1869, Sainsbury built a chain of grocery stores which numbered 128 when he died in 1928. Sainsbury's remained a family business during his whole life. At the time of the firm's incorporation in 1922, John James took on the title of Chairman and Governing Director, a position which he held until his death in 1928. His last words were "Keep the shops well lit".
Today, the group owns over 1,000 stores but no family member has been involved in management since David Sainsbury retired in 1998.[1] They do, however, continue to control approximately 15% of the shares.

Retail corporations get a lot of stick these days, and have done for the past generation or so.  Some of this stick is justified (e.g. for price rigging) and some not (e.g. they sell hygienic, quality goods with a low markup).  Regardless of the ethics of some retail company's, they are an essential part of the production chain, and thus are essential to our lives, because without them we wouldn't be able to purchase the goods necessary for life like processed grass seed (bread), processed plant matter (clothes), and processed rocks (cutlery).  While we may grumble about some injustice that a retail outlet has committed by underpaying farmers for goods, or the fact that they throw away umpteen tons of edible food every day on the whole do a good job of something that many of us would struggle at.  So thanks to the all the decent retail workers out there, from the cashiers on up to the CEOs.


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