BUSINESSMAN Malcolm Walker is back in the spotlight.
The Grange Moor-born chief executive of frozen food supermarket Iceland is being tipped to make a bid to buy the firm he founded 40 years ago.
And it has been labelled the biggest comeback in retailing for years.
Speculation is mounting that Iceland – and toys retailer Hamleys – are to be sold by failed Icelandic bank Landsbanki.
Newspaper reports suggest the bank is to put its 67% stake in Iceland Foods on the market and hopes to complete a sale.
Landsbanki is understood to value Iceland and its network of 800 stores – including ones at Trinity Street and Aspley – at £1.5bn.
The bank is also open to offers for its 65% stake in toy emporium Hamleys, according to media reports.
Landsbanki also owns a 35% stake in department store group House of Fraser, which has a store at Huddersfield’s Kingsgate centre.
Mr Walker, who owns about 24% of Iceland Foods with his management team, made a £1bn bid to take full control of the company last autumn, which was rejected.
Iceland has boomed in the recession as sales of frozen food grew because it is considered to be good value for money by consumers.
Former Atomic Kitten star Kerry Katona was famously the face of Iceland before being sacked in a cocaine-use storm.
Landsbanki came to own stakes in the retailers after Icelandic investment firm Baugur, which bought out great swathes of the UK high street, went bankrupt and its assets were seized by the bank.
Landsbanki is gradually winding up its assets and chose to sell Iceland first because of its strong performance in recent years after Mr Walker returned to the company in 2005.
If Mr Walker was to regain control of Iceland Foods it would mark one of the most remarkable business comebacks in retail history.
He founded the Iceland business in 1970 and built it up into a major national chain, but was ousted as chairman in 2001.
Baugur brought Mr Walker back when it bought the company in 2005 and it has increased sales and profits every year since.
Last year, Iceland reported record pre-tax profits of £135.4m – up 19.4% on the previous year.
Like-for-like sales at Iceland Foods stores which have been open for more than a year rose by 4.3% in the year and helped total sales climb by 10.4% to £2.2bn.
A spokesman for Landsbanki told trade publication Retail Week that he expected both Iceland and Hamleys to attract substantial interest.
He said: “The market is getting better so it’s time to start proceedings.
“These are highly valued and well known companies. We get lots of requests and people are approaching us.”
He said it was likely that the bank will sell all its assets in the next three years, but stressed there will be no sale of its share in House of Fraser until at least 2012.
A spokesman for Iceland Foods said: “We are not aware of a sale process and we are surprised by the press reports as any sale process can only take place with the involvement of the Iceland management.”