Robert Sainsbury


Robert Sainsbury

Sir Robert Sainsbury (October 24 1906 - April 2 2000), was the son of John Benjamin Sainsbury (the eldest son of Sainsbury's supermarkets founder John James Sainsbury), and along with his wife Lisa began the collection of modern and tribal art housed at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich.

Early and family life

Robert Sainsbury was educated at Haileybury College and Cambridge, before qualifying as an accountant.

Robert and his wife, Lisa, had three daughters, Elizabeth (Elizabeth Clark 19 Jul 1938 - 14 Aug 1977), Celia and Annabel, and a son, David.

Business career

In 1930, he joined the family grocery business founded by his grandfather, and became joint president almost 40 years later.

Robert Sainsbury was an advocate of better conditions for the retail chain's employees. Pensions and sickness benefits for all staff came in 1935; overtime payments were introduced in 1941; and, from 1962, the five-day week was standard.

Eight years after he joined the family firm, his father, John Benjamin Sainsbury, retired due to ill-health, and Robert Sainsbury and his elder brother Alan Sainsbury became joint general managers. While Alan Sainsbury took charge of trading matters, Robert Sainsbury specialised in administration, finance and personnel. It was a happy partnership, lasting more than 30 years.

The Second World War broke out a year after Robert Sainsbury's promotion, and there were rationed supplies at the 250 Sainsbury's shops.

Robert Sainsbury was a strong supporter of the Beveridge report, which cradled the welfare state into being. By the end of the war, Robert Sainsbury had cut the long hours which under-18s had necessarily put in - with men conscripted and women on war work.

The 1950s brought self-service supermarkets. Over the period of his joint general management, deputy chairmanship and chairmanship (he became deputy chairman when his father died in 1956, and succeeded his brother as chairman in 1967), the company's turnover increased from £45m to £166m, and the number of employees rose fourfold.

By the time he retired as chairman in 1969, Robert Sainsbury had been a principal architect of the supergrocer's fortunes, which insured its continuing success through to the beginning of the 1990s.

Charitable works

Robert Sainsbury was as an art collector and benefactor who gave his collection to the University of East Anglia, and was awarded a knighthood in 1969 for services to the arts.

Robert Sainsbury in 1973 made a gift to the University of East Anglia of several hundred paintings, drawings and sculptures from around the world, which he had bought over the decades.

Designed by Norman Foster, a talented British architect, and with an endowment of £3m from his son, David, to house the works, the awe-inspiring Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts opened in spring 1978.


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