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The corridors of power ...

The row over Sainsbury's and its generosity towards Sir Peter Davis, the newly departed chairman, made me wonder about the Sainsbury family. They make other great British clans, like the Moores of Littlewoods fame and the Clark shoemaking family, look almost normal.

It is weird enough having two Lord Sainsburys – one of whom is a staunch Tory and the other a huge Labour donor-turned-minister in Tony Blair’s government.

It is stranger still having a wife (of Sir Tim, the former Tory minister), who helped finance a home for a former Kray associate.

The Sainsbury family speak for about 38% of the supermarket group, giving them a fair amount of clout on issues such as Sir Peter’s golden handshake. Yet working out who calls the shots is a near-impossible task.

Ostensibly, the figurehead is Lord (David) Sainsbury of Turville, 63, who was chairman in the nineties before becoming minister of science and innovation. The retailer’s fortunes waned under his stewardship. His shares are held in a blind trust, distancing him from decision-making.

Then there is his cousin, Lord (John) Sainsbury of Preston Candover, 76, the Tory supporter who made Sainsbury’s a dominant force as chairman from 1969-92.

Various fifth-generation family members appear happy to take the dividends and indulge in their love of charity and the arts. Only Mark, son of the older Lord Sainsbury, has shown entrepreneurial flair.

You can’t really blame them. In all these great dynasties, whether the Clarks, the Sainsburys or the Whitbreads, the younger family members grow up in a world where money is dispensed through trusts. Running a business? That’s what servants are for.

  • Jon Ashworth, business features editor at The Times.

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