Walker linked with Iceland bid as Landsbanki backs out

Iceland's majority owner Landsbanki is poised to sell off its stake. Could founder Malcolm Walker be the one to save it from the deep freeze?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Landsbanki, the collapsed Icelandic bank, is apparently gearing up to sell its majority stake in its country’s namesake, frozen food retailer Iceland. It’s part of an attempt by the troubled Icelandic government to recoup some of the large amount of money its collapsed banks piled into foreign assets. So far, no bidders have officially thrown their hat into the ring – but if an interview MT did with Malcolm Walker, the company’s CEO and founder, is anything to go by, he won't give up his baby easily...

It’s still early days for the sales process, which Landsbanki is hoping will raise an ice-cool £1.5bn. But there are already suggestions that the supermarket could be taken over by a larger rival like Asda or Tesco. The problem with that, though, would be the competitions regulator, which may not be too impressed if one supermarket gained the advantage of the 800-odd stores Iceland has in the UK. The other solution, then, would be for supermarkets to get together and carve up the retailer’s assets between them.

But there may be an alternative option. Walker, who already owns 8% of the company, has the right to match any offer made by a competitor; and his management team, which owns a further 15% stake, would probably back him. The CEO has actually already demonstrated that he’s keen to own the supermarket again: just last year, he tried to buy the stake back from Lansbanki, although that deal fell through.

He’s very protective of his staff, too. In an interview with MT a couple of weeks ago, Walker told us that ‘our secret weapon is our staff’. He's famous for showering managers with gifts: two years ago, he forked out £4m to take them to Disneyland Florida, which probably contributed to the business being voted the sixth-best company in the UK to work for by the Sunday Times. So the chances of Walker allowing rivals to carve up the business (endangering 22,000 jobs in the process) without a fight are slim indeed...

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today