Sir Malcolm Walker CBE
Founder, Iceland Foods and Trustee, Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation
Malcolm Walker is an entrepreneur to his fingertips. Born in Yorkshire in 1946, his first venture was as a dance promoter while he was still at grammar school. Leaving without conspicuous academic qualifications, he immediately identified retailing as the way to make his fortune, and began work as a trainee manager at Woolworths. Iceland was founded as a sideline in 1970 with a single small shop in Oswestry selling loose frozen food, and a starting capital of just £30.
Malcolm has only ever had three paid jobs, and so far he’s been fired from two of them. Discovery of his extracurricular interest in frozen food prompted his dismissal by Woolworths in 1971, but luckily this provided the catalyst for a rapid expansion of Iceland into a national chain which by 2000 had £2 billion of sales, 22,000 employees and over 700 shops. Malcolm was Chairman & Chief Executive through 30 years of continuous sales growth, in all but one of which the company also increased its profits.
Following the acquisition of the Booker cash and carry business in April 2000, Iceland became a food group with sales of £5.5 billion. Malcolm was fired for the second time in his life in January 2001, and responded by founding his second new frozen food retail business, Cooltrader. Meanwhile Iceland, renamed The Big Food Group, floundered under its new management for four painful years, losing focus, sales and market share to become one of those companies that cannot be mentioned in the press without the adjective ‘troubled’.
The Big Food Group was rescued from severe financial difficulties by a takeover in February 2005, when Malcolm returned to Iceland as Chief Executive Officer and a member of the consortium that took the company private. Under his leadership the morale and performance of the business were quickly transformed to make Iceland once again one of the most remarkable success stories in UK food retailing.
In the eight years after Malcolm’s return, Iceland’s like-for-like sales grew by more than 50% and its profitability was fully restored, with EBITDA in the financial year to March 2013 reaching £226.3 million on sales of £2.64 billion. Over the same period Iceland also transformed pay and conditions to make its front line retail staff among the best paid on the high street. This was reflected in the annual Sunday Times Best Companies survey, which in 2012 and 2014 named Iceland as the Best Big Company to Work For in the UK.
In March 2012 Malcolm led a successful £1.45 billion management buyout of Iceland, in conjunction with three external shareholders, and in June 2020 he and Iceland CEO Tarsem Dhaliwal returned the company to full British family ownership by buying out its one remaining external shareholder, the investment company Brait SE.
In recent years Iceland has reclaimed its place as one of the UK’s fastest-growing food retailers through a wide range of successful initiatives including the development of a major Online business, the launch and nationwide expansion of The Food Warehouse, the roll-out of a new Iceland store format, the signing of a strategic partnership with The Range, major investments in infrastructure and at head office, including the construction of a new £2 million development kitchen, and a market-leading programme of product innovation embracing both the iconic Iceland own label and a growing range of exclusive supply agreement and brands including Slimming World, Greggs, TGI Fridays, Harry Ramsden’s, Chiquito, Cathedral City and MyProtein.
Always a pioneer in ‘Doing It Right’ for customers and the environment, Iceland led the UK food retail industry in removing artificial colours, flavours and non-essential preservatives from its own label food in the 1980s, and took a global lead in banning GM ingredients in the 1990s. More recently it has shown similar leadership by announcing that it will eliminate plastic packaging from its own label range, and removing palm oil as an ingredient from its own label food.
Iceland today has annual sales of almost £4 billion and 1,000 company-owned stores in the UK, together with franchised stores in overseas territories including the Channel Islands, Spain, Portugal and Norway. It also exports its own label products to more than 40 countries around the world. The company directly employs more than 30,000 people and has paid £1.9 billion in UK taxes since Malcolm’s return to the business in 2005.
Malcolm is proud of Iceland’s exceptional record of raising more than £30 million for good causes since 2005. Major donations by the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation have included £17 million to dementia research charities including UCL Dementia Research, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society; £3 million to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, £1 million to Prostate Cancer UK, £1.5 million to Help For Heroes, £1 million to The Royal British Legion, and £1 million towards the construction of the UK’s new Defence & National Rehabilitation Centre.
Malcolm’s personal commitment to fundraising has included his participation in the Iceland Everest Expedition of 2011, in which he and his son Richard reached the North Col of Everest at 23,000ft, the record-breaking Descent of the Shard abseil in September 2012 and In the Footsteps of Legends: The Iceland Antarctic Expedition, an unsupported trek to the Geographic South Pole in November/December 2012 from which Malcolm had to be airlifted for emergency medical treatment.
Malcolm was married to his childhood sweetheart Rhianydd (Ranny) for more than 50 years until she passed away in January 2021. His second marriage, to Natalie, took place in August 2022. He has three grown-up children and eight grandchildren, and lives near Chester. Malcolm has many other business interests ranging from food manufacturing to restaurants and property. Outside work, his greatest enthusiasms are for his home, garden and family, good food and wine, ski-ing, sailing and shooting.
Malcolm was awarded the CBE in 1995 and his appointment as a Knight Bachelor was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2017. He holds honorary degrees from the Universities of Bangor, Liverpool John Moores, Glyndwr, Huddersfield and Chester, and is an Honorary Fellow of University College London.
Sir Malcolm’s autobiography, Best Served Cold, was published in November 2013, with all proceeds being donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Group Chief Executive, Iceland Foods and Trustee, Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation
Tarsem was appointed Group CEO of Iceland in 2018, after a year as Group Managing Director and 12 prior years as Group Finance Director.
In 2020 Tarsem and Iceland’s founder Sir Malcolm Walker together completed the £108.5m acquisition of the South African investment holding company Brait SE’s shareholding in Iceland’s holding company, the WD FF Group, returning this to full British ownership by the Walker and Dhaliwal families.
The WD FF Group today has an annual turnover approaching £4bn, some 1,000 stores and 30,000 employees.
Tarsem was born in India in 1963 and moved to the UK with his family in 1966. He grew up in Warrington where he was educated at Woolston comprehensive school and gained his initial retail experience helping his father to run a market stall. After completing an HND in business studies at Kelsterton College in Connah’s Quay, he joined Iceland as a trainee accountant at its Deeside head office in 1985. He qualified as a Chartered Management Accountant with the company and moved swiftly up the career ladder to become Trading Finance Director of the then publicly quoted Iceland Foods plc in 1998.
Tarsem left Iceland in 2001 and rejoined in 2005, following the takeover and break-up of the Big Food Group, as Finance Director and a leading member of the management shareholding team.
Over the next seven years Tarsem and his senior colleagues achieved one of the most remarkable turnarounds in UK corporate history, delivering seven consecutive years of strong like-for-like sales and profit growth that transformed a loss-making business in 2005 into one generating a record EBITDA of £230m by 2012. In the same year Tarsem played a key role in successfully negotiating a £1.55bn management buyout of the Icelandic banks’ 77% shareholding in the company.
After 12 years as Finance Director, with responsibility for Iceland’s Finance, Legal, IT, Supply Chain, Stores Maintenance and Property functions, Tarsem took up the wider responsibilities of Group Managing Director in 2017.
As Group CEO since 2018, Tarsem manages the business on a day-to-day basis, leading his strong executive team, and also sets the strategy for the Group to ensure its continued focus on ‘Doing It Right’ for its employees, customers and the environment, and on a philosophy of always being ‘long term greedy’ rather than taking quick and easy decisions for the short term.
Tarsem is passionate about the quality of the food Iceland and The Food Warehouse sells and is very proud of the ranges we offer and of the services we provide to our customers and communities.
As a trustee of the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, which has given more than £30m to good causes since 1973, Tarsem has been actively involved in supporting fundraising for its four focused priorities of dementia, environment, wellbeing and children. He has recently led the Foundation’s support for the UK Sepsis Trust, to fund its major “Schools Against Sepsis” and “Sepsis Savvy” campaigns, and its £1.5m backing of Prostate Cancer UK to raise awareness and improve detection of the condition.
In addition to Iceland Foods, the WD FF Group also has investments in a number of other businesses, notably the Individual Restaurants chain operating under the Restaurant Bar & Grill, Riva Blu, Piccolino, Piccolo, Opera Grill and Bank brands.
Tarsem is married to Louise and has four children (Paul, Samantha, Sam and Jessica) and a grandson called Rio, all of whom have been instructed to support Manchester United, otherwise they will be disowned.
Richard Walker OBE
Executive Chairman of Iceland Foods and Chairman of the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation
Richard was born in 1980 and graduated from Durham University in geography, qualified as a chartered surveyor and developed his own property businesses in Poland and the UK – Bywater Properties – before joining Iceland Foods (the company founded by his parents Malcolm and Rhianydd in 1970) in 2012. He spent a year as a shelf-stacker and cashier before becoming an Iceland store manager and then moving to head office, where he took up the role of Managing Director in 2018 and became Executive Chairman in January 2023, with responsibility for Iceland’s people, property, customers and sustainability.
As a committed environmentalist, Richard has led all Iceland’s recent sustainability initiatives including the removal of palm oil from the company’s own label range in 2018, its pledge to eliminate plastic packaging from the Iceland own label range, the publication of the full plastic footprint of the business, and its pledge to achieve Net Zero carbon in its operations by 2040. Bywater Properties, of which Richard is also Founder and Chairman, announced in February 2023 a new £1bn joint venture agreement with Sumitomo Forestry to drive the adoption of low carbon property development and refurbishment across Europe.
Richard is Chairman of the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation and in April 2023 he completed an ascent of Mount Everest with the famous climber Kenton Cool which has raised £1m to help fund the creation of the world’s first Rare Dementia Support Centre. He is also an Ambassador for the Wildlife Trusts and Alzheimer’s Research UK, Patron of the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, a Vice-President of Fauna & Flora International and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. He was a member of the former Prime Minister’s Business Council, and is a regular panellist on shows such as BBC1’s Question Time and Radio Four’s Any Questions. His first book The Green Grocer was published in 2021.
Richard was appointed OBE for services to business and the environment in the late Queen’s final Birthday Honours list in 2022. He holds an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Bedfordshire and is an honorary fellow of University College London.
Outside family and business, Richard’s greatest passions are trail running, skiing, surfing and climbing.
Group Sales Director of Iceland Foods and Trustee of the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation
Paul Dhaliwal was born in 1991 and first joined Iceland as a frontline assistant in the Ellesmere Port store, where he worked for two years before taking a four-year degree course in Buffalo, NY, from which he graduated in Business & Marketing.
He re-joined Iceland in 2015, initially as Digital Marketing Coordinator before moving into the Buying Team as a Trainee Buyer. He managed buying in a number of Grocery and Frozen categories, was promoted to Head of Commercial for the Food Warehouse in 2020, and became a Trading Director of Iceland Foods in 2021.
Paul was promoted to the new role of Group Sales Director in January 2023, with responsibility for merchandising and store formats, and for liaising between the Buying, Marketing and Retail teams to ensure that everything on sale in Iceland and The Food Warehouse stores is the right product at the right price for our customers.
As a Trustee of the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation since 2021, Paul has worked particularly closely with charities focused on Children, notably in developing the Foundation’s key partnership with Action for Children which has raised more than £1m for the charity and was recognised with the Outstanding Corporate Partnership Award at the Stephenson Awards 2023.
Paul is married with a young son and his interests beyond business and his family revolve around football and food.