David Sainsbury – The Giving Grocer

Place of Birth

United Kingdom


FMCG – Supermarkets

David Sainsbury
David Sainsbury

Early Career – Grocer With Heritage

Eldest son of Sir Robert Sainsbury and nephew of Lord Sainsbury, David John Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville attended prestigious Eton College before studying History and Psychology at King’s College, Cambridge University. He followed this with an MBS from Columbia Business School in the United States.

The Sainsbury brand was started by his great-grandparents in 1869 and the humble London-based grocer’s shop went on to become of the UK’s largest supermarkets chains. David joined the company in 1963, starting work in the personnel department. In 1966 he was appointed as a director of the company and worked as Financial Controller from 1971 to 1973 when the company listed on the London Stock Exchange in what was the largest listing ever at that time. The Sainsbury family retained 85% of the shares in the newly listed company, Sir Robert’s shares going to David and his uncle’s shares being split between his three sons.


David Sainsbury was the company Finance Director from 1973 until 1990. From 1984 until 1993 he was chairman of Savacentre, a group of hypermarkets. On his cousin JD Sainsbury’s retirement  in 1992, as CEO and chairman, David was appointed to the position. The 1990’s was a difficult time for the group with three separate profit warnings and several management changes. By 1998, the group was performing well again but David Sainsbury announced his decision to retire to enter politics, a long-held ambition of his.

To avoid any potential conflict of interest David Sainsbury placed his 23% stake in the group into a blind trust administered by lawyer Judith Portrait. His announcement to give away £1 billion to charity in 2005 distilled his shares down to 12,9% and even further to 7,75% in 2007 when he regained control of his shares after stepping down as Science and Innovation Minister from the government.


Though David joined the Labour Party in the 1960’s he entered politics as a member of the Social Democratic Party and after the 1983 election David was the largest donor to the party as well as a trustee. He donated over £750 000 to special projects undertaken by the party, between 1981 and 1987. After the dissolution of the SDP in 1990 David once more returned to the Labour Party and in 1997 took up his place in the House of Lords as a Labour peer Baron Sainsbury of Turville.

Despite some rocky years and allegations of financial misconduct over donations, Sainsbury served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry and as the Minister for Science and Innovation in the House of Lords, receiving no salary during his tenure.

During the 2016 European Union membership referendum campaign, Sainsbury donated over £4 million to the ‘Remain’ campaign.

Philanthropy and Sponsorship

David Sainsbury founded the Gatsby Charitable Foundation in 1967. He donated £200 million of Sainsbury shares to the foundation in 1993 and by 2009 the foundation had disbursed over £600 million to charitable causes. Also in 2009, Sainsbury donated a further £465 million to the foundation making good on his 2005 promise to donate over £1 billion to charity. He was the first British citizen to make a donation of this size.

In 1987, he established the Sainsbury Management Fellowship aimed at the development of engineer in the United Kingdom.

The Gatsby Charitable Foundation has donated over £127 million to the University of Cambridge including £45 million to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and £82 million to the Cambridge Sainsbury Laboratory.

David and his wife Susie joined the Giving Pledge in 2013 pledging to donate half his wealth to charitable trusts during his lifetime.