Johnston told Building that he felt underemployed: “I was in a bit of a rut,” he said. “Now we have a good procurement process [at J Sainsbury], it works well. I want to do more than just see that process happen. I want to stir up my grey matter.”
The former Jaguar engineer does not have any firm job plans yet, although he is considering setting up a construction management or project management consultancy.
Johnston said he had been thinking about a career change for the past six months, despite being given extra responsibilities last year. Formerly J Sainsbury’s construction chief, in April 1998 he was put in charge of the retailer’s facilities management operation as well.
Johnston said he “would have quite liked” to succeed John Carpenter, John Lewis Partnerships’ director of building services, who retires soon. But in February, ex-Tesco head of construction Nigel Keen was appointed deputy director of building at John Lewis and is being groomed to succeed Carpenter. Johnston added: “Since then, I have had a good look at my career.”
Johnston pioneered partnering and framework agreements at J Sainsbury, one of Britain’s highest spending clients.
Over the past few years, Johnston has built up a small team of regular suppliers that carry out the client’s £400m annual construction spend.
J Sainsbury has three framework construction managers – Schal, RGCM and PCM – that undertake all of the company’s construction management projects.
Johnston chaired the Construction Industry Board’s partnering team – Working Group 12. In March 1997, it published the definitive guide to partnering, which was intended to help clients avoid contractors that claim they use partnering and then fail to do so when the contract is signed.
Johnston has also been working on Project Orange – a £150m redevelopment and relocation of J Sainsbury’s London headquarters. The project is being developed by Carillion subsidiary Schal.
Johnston insisted that he does not regret leaving just as the headquarters project and the new green superstore next to the Millennium Dome in Greenwich come together. He said: “I’ll have lots more opportunities for that sort of thing outside of Sainsbury’s.”
Ian Coull, J Sainsbury’s main board director responsible for property, is taking over until Johnston’s successor is found.
J Sainsbury said none of the projects Johnston was involved with is being reviewed.