Britain’s high streets are under attack from a mysterious Icelander who was a virtual unknown until little more than three years ago.
His name is Jon Asgeir Johannesson, a 37-year old businessman, who controls a company called Baugur, through which he has been mopping up some of the nation’s best known stores. His tally to date includes the Hamleys toy shop, Oasis, Karen Miller and Whistles fashion chains, Goldsmiths the jewellers, coffee and tea retailer Whittard of Chelsea and perhaps most appropriately of all Big Food Group, which is the company that owns Iceland Frozen Food
He was a contender in the 2002 acquisition of Arcadia, the firm which runs Burtons and Top Shop; he was a major investor in House of Fraser and also part of a consortium offering £1 billion for the supermarket group Somerfield; he has been trying to buy privately-owned fashion retailer Jane Norman for around £100 million and yesterday it was confirmed in London he had doubled his stake in Woolworths to 6.18%.
Jon Asgeir Johannesson is a real life rags to riches story. His rise to prominence has been compressed into 16 short years. At age 21 Jon Asgeir, as he is known locally, opened his first store and was to be seen pushing trolleys around the car park instead of going to university. Today he is Iceland’s largest retailer and has a burgeoning business empire worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
There is another side to Jon Asgeir. He is a high flying playboy, who, with five other colleagues, is facing criminal charges relating to embezzlement. He has denied them vigorously and the case, brought by Icelandic police in July 2005 is still going on.
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