You Live and You Learn: Malcolm Walker

The founder and CEO of Iceland on coming back to the business, why he 'd like to stop selling chewing gum and why he's climbing Mount Everest.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

My father died when I was 14. At the time of his death he was working in the smallholding he and my mother owned. He had been a colliery electrician, but an accident in the pit put a stop to that.

We started Iceland with £60 - my partner Peter Hinchcliffe and I each put in £30 to cover the first month's rent. We bought two freezers on hire purchase, and got a frozen food wholesaler to give us a month's credit.

I've never considered myself a proper boss. I have a very informal, slightly chaotic style of management. We forget to have board meetings or, if we do, it's a joke-telling session, and decisions are made in the corridor - or the pub.

Getting the boot in 2001 was quite traumatic. Instead of being remembered for employing thousands of people and building a big business, I had a cloud hanging over me because of the DTI investigation.

For three years I had no interest in going back. But in the time I was away, the business virtually went bankrupt - I was dying to get my hands on the books, and I did when I became CEO again in 2005.

Sometimes you have to put cash over principles. I'd like to stop selling chewing gum at Iceland, but we sell a few million quid's worth of the stuff a year. I can't stand gum, though, it's revolting. You see Alex Ferguson on the TV with his big gob full of it.

My greatest achievement is instilling a good work ethic in my kids. In some ways, they had a privileged upbringing, but they all had holiday jobs and drove bangers as their first cars. They are very grounded.

I'm climbing Mount Everest for charity. My family have tried to talk me out of it - unsurprisingly, as one in four people over 60 die on the attempt. I'm 65. I haven't even considered the possibility of not coming back. But I may tidy my desk.

I'll never retire. Having let go once before, I won't do it again. If you retire you die, don't you? Retiring is more dangerous than climbing mountains.

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