Sir Malcolm Walker is the chairman and co-founder of the frozen food supermarket chain Iceland. He was brought up in Grange Moor, West Yorkshire. He was just 14 when his father died, and he helped his mother run a smallholding, driving a tractor and ploughing fields. His business instinct kicked in during his teenage years, when he promoted Saturday night dances by booking bands into local church halls. After receiving rejections from Marks & Spencer and Littlewoods, he became a trainee manager at Woolworths, and recalls that he started at the very bottom, sweeping the floors for many months before gradually winning promotions and moving round the country. In 1970, he and Peter Hinchcliffe, a colleague from Woolworths, opened a shop in Oswestry, selling loose frozen food from chest freezers. The business soon began to take off, Malcolm and Peter were both fired by Woolworths, and Malcolm went on to build a company which now has more than 1000 stores in the UK and Ireland. Along the way, boardroom battles led to his departure in the early 2000s, but he later returned and Iceland is now back in family ownership. Alongside his business pursuits, Malcolm has been a fundraiser for dementia charities, after his wife was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. She died in 2021 after more than 50 years of marriage. He was knighted in 2017, has three children, one of whom also works in the family business, and he married for the second time in August last year. DISC ONE: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26: II. Adagio, composed by Max Bruch, performed by Itzhak Perlman (violin) and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Bernard Haitink DISC TWO: Goodbye by Josef Locke DISC THREE: Only You by The Platters DISC FOUR: Silence is Golden by The Tremeloes DISC FIVE: Memory composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and performed by Elaine Paige DISC SIX: All I Ask of You composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and performed by Steve Barton and Sarah Brightman DISC SEVEN: La bohème, SC 67 / Act I composed by Giacomo Puccini and performed by Luciano Pavarotti (tenor) and Mirella Freni (soprano) with the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan DISC EIGHT: Quando me’n vo (“Musetta’s Waltz”) from La Bohème composed by Giacomo Puccini and performed by Natalie Walker BOOK CHOICE: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe LUXURY ITEM: A cast iron cooking pot CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Quando me’n vo (“Musetta’s Waltz”) from La Bohème composed by Giacomo Puccini and performed by Natalie Walker Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
BBC sounds music. Radio, podcasts, hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island and for rights reasons. the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. I The castaway this week is the businessman, Sir Malcolm walker, he's the founder of the supermarket, jean iceland, which he started with a friend in nineteen. Seventy fed up with that day, jobs at woolworth's. They each invested.
Depends and began moonlighting in retail unit selling frozen food. That boss wasn't too pleased when he found out the both got the sack, but it was worth it. Fifty two years on, iceland has over one thousand stores in the uk and ireland with sales of around three point: five billion pounds under his the ship. The company is one numerous awards from retail on consumer groups. Meanwhile, beyond the freeze, royal he's helped raise some thirty million pounds for good causes, particularly alzheimer's charities in honour of his late wife runneth, who name that first shop in nineteen. Seventy he sat down as well as offset the company I started, including being fired and setting up a rival venture before being asked to return eventually buying back the business taking it into family ownership. Once again, in twenty twenty, he says I'm an ideas, man, if five percent of my ideas benefit the business. I consider that a good result so long as the other. Ninety five don't do too much serious damage. Malcolm walker, welcome to desert island discs, leisure,
So I have often said that with two percent of the gross remark, iceland shouldn't really be here. Why do you think it's dil around more than fifty years after you created. As we understand the business you no more supermarkets, you gonna tell me or the bosses, because the change of red three or four years, but because I've been there are fifty ideas. You understand the business and I think we very good motivating people our staff. So fifty two years later, we still got burning enthusiasm It's just as well, because you need a minute mean economic leader forecasts right now are pretty bleak, were already in the cost of living crisis. How is that affected the business and your customers? Well, I suppose, to be fair, we not wait rose, and so we actually do better in the recession,
people come come to charlotte. I was going to trade down, but I don't like putting it that way. People come to a most sensible shop. Okay, so I mean you have said in the past that there is a bit of a stigma around shopping and iceland yeah. Let's not pretend that when there is- and I always say a third of the population of the great britain lovers a third dont care, and the third would wouldn't miss indebted in iceland, but until have tried it, they don't really know so. You ve got more people coming through the door because that they're looking to manage their budgets effectively am. Oh, you haven't put prices up yourself in and charge customers we are, but we have to be competitive in the low inflation moon in fifteen percent on food. That's just food cost price inflation, never mind electricity, which has gone up three or four
I mean it's a real struggle and we're having to cut costs wherever we can think of innovative things to do to cut the electricity bill, but unfortunately, in a we have to pass on food cost increases, as does everybody else, and if you know is that people are less money to spend what what the company booked to tell you. People are actually spending more because of inflation. But the mighty buying wanna to less items in a basket of a very famous for a group of products. It was well for a pound well half those. Now we actually lose money selling them, but we have to keep them there. It, sir, stake in the ground, and You can imagine the cells of our one pound products have doubled in troubled and we're losing more and more money selling them. But you know it's important to us that we have an immense.
and energy prices, which, of course, are a concern for everyone? I mean I've heard plenty of stories about small kind of convenience stores, turning off their fridges, because it's just so expensive to run the book you specialize in was in food, so you must be quite vulnerable. We spend more money on electricity but found of sales than any other supermarket, because everything refrigerated or conditions? There is did you prize gap which disappears in April no idea what latin after that, but we out. That would lose money this year. So are you worried about the future would always worried about the future right from very first day that we open the store yeah. Once you stop worrying, nothing is drift into complacency and margaret it's time to get the music. Tell us about your first piece today. What have you chosen and why you taking it to the desert island with, well. This is a bit of a change in attitude for me, because I was never a fan of classical music.
and then one day at home, I was listening to the radio and these magical. Peace came on radio, which totally changed your mind, and it said violent concerto number one by max book. I think he's brilliant the
The, u dont you from brooks file and continue to number one performed by its act, pullman and the right concern about, will restore conducted by bernard hiding, so some out of work. You were born than nineteen forty six to ethelwyn, willie walker in grange, moore, west yorkshire. I know it adds a colleague electrician, but he had an didn't that that forced him to change jobs. What actually happened? I've been action into the pit calcutta pushes foot, so it could work at the pit anymore, but term. We always what we call a small holding chickens and pigs and a few animals, and it was only eight and a half acres, but that then went full time. on the farm and was a pioneer I hate to say it now in battery hens built a huge shared with,
of battery hens and we went into egg production. Did you ever get any compensation fit for? What has happened? well, I didn't existed in. Accidents were incredibly come here, a minute wasn't actually bad, he wasn't labour, but then in who is a heavy smoker and died. When I was fourteen years old so that your left my mom and he was he was very tough. But I used to help me dad on the farm. But if I used to do everything, it was work after school weekends worker at even drive. The tractor imply the field in those forty years, all of them. Maybe that got my work ethic. Going so tell me, love that more about about working on the funds they had these chicken than ends. What else thousands of them will we used to grow vegetables and flowers. I remember he started around. That means enough in the car.
Knocking on doors duna by some eggs, as they really are very familiar, Just remember: selling daffodils often ache an endeavour It was in the garden which would cut and dry, and so was it a case of whatever you know you had that you could make money ourself or whatever was in my mum was very good making sponge cake with all the broken eggs, she was always making mooncakes and had quite a following. Who would buy the sponge issues, a good basic idea, I'm what was higher attitude tat, two working to work and customer service, because I think eventually, the cell pellet grocery shopped the day they set up her very small grocery store, but the we had that through about twelve months before my dad died. Let's have some music Malcolm it's time for a second choice. Well, I'll go right back to my dad, he would sing and a mom would play the piano and I can remember him singing this uncle good, bye, bye, josie, flock and actions.
Remember every word I shall start the, My mom I'm coming The girls I and some good by some by Joseph malcolm as you mentioned, you lost your dad very young. He died from cancer when you fourteen years old, so that left you mom and you in your old brother. It must have been a very difficult time for all of you. I remember it quite well, but my brother was seven years. Older has quite an age gap and he was over off on his first job and then
two abroad a lot, but you were home going through it all thing. What you? Maybe I well, I suppose education wasn't a priority. Failed me level plus twice and the secondary modern school and then for some unknown reason. Let me try it again. So in the second yellows and after the grammar school, but I was behind. So it is really quite difficult so you don't ready out that sat back and then and then leave in your dad's, MR ping really difficult way. The kind of family you could talk that no, I just got on with life. Those things happened: it was very hard. She got the widows pensions after me, dad died and that was ten shillings a week or fifty pounds that was the widows pensions, so hard do you think that was an extra spare not having a dozen, and you must have been watching him on struggle india, and only when I interested in business came from. But when I was still at school chopping logs selling,
organizing dancers old gang in the village, used to hang around outside the fish and chips shop? There was no youth clover, anything and conversations always What shall we do so I too, lead and I organize a dance, and I did it in the local church hall and a book to two groups salty kiss and that we organize dance and I made a profit which I gave to cancer research fund. But then I thought I'll do another one for me, so then started doing a whole series of dances. Different churchill's and the hood has failed. How was her teenage impresario? Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do after school? Nobody went to university, so no expectations, no expectations and I didn't swap for exams. I thought her would be a carpenter right, but to when I was at school, the careers teacher, around and said there would be a good at said alike, organizing things she says. Well, in that case
you're going to retail. So I did all right. Well, I think it's time for small music, Malcolm you're fat choice today. What have you gone for and why, the nice record reminds me of the time when it was organizing dances still at school and at one event this band played a song called only you is a valid and I just thought it was absolutely beautiful. So I want to play that, but also its something that stuck in my mind and there I got married again in august last year, and that was perfect for that dreaded. First dance
and the place, and only you easy to dance to malcolm so your advice by your careers officer at school to pursue a career in retail. You tried little woods marks and spencer lose his leads, but they all turned you down. What do you think they missed in you? Malcolm, would restrict your government arithmetic this than I couldn't marshals it says the guy was really good. He invited me in for an interview at a local store, spend an hour talking to me about life, but said
we need a university degree. I then went to woolworths, which is bottom of the list and the reason I went there was they took anybody. It didn't matter because their training program, but there wasn't one. But basically you started at the bottom. Sweeping the floor and ended up has been chairman. The drop out rate was phenomenal and basically it was if he could stick the course he made it. So I started sweeping the floor in the huddersfield store and on foot the. I was doing that two years later, because the guy who took me on it and moved on- and they didn't know that I was a trainee manager- thought as a floor sweeper anyway. Eventually I got moved to leeds and started my career properly, and you know it was really hard. It was six days a week and you'd have to be in
two eight in the morning or seven. If you let it in the bread, man and you couldn't go till- maybe eight or nine o clock at night, but there is also a great camaraderie because moving around the country to different stores moving into flatten bets williamites from wool is in her. It was quite an adventure, so that was the way worked. I think I ve described as like many universities who, as you kind of climbed the latter they'd, send you to different places we, whether wherever there was a vacancy, I guess he taught you to become self sufficient in many ways and as oppose really looking back at thing. There wasn't really training course, and I didn't learn anything that anything actually. I did learned an awful lot by just becoming self sufficient. So when we started iceland, I sort of instinctively knew what to do. How many ideas did you try out before you hit upon iceland? What we are quite a few? We had a chain letter right, potentially patent
to sell me a chain letter. You know what chain literacy. Yes, you receive a letter and then you have to pass it on to other people how to make money at you by the letter and then you send it off to head office. They re type it with your name movie, not the list, and you get it back in any cell copies a little bit complicate. but I realized the only guy mc in any money out of this was the guy was organised in the chain letter. Since an early pyramid scheme, yea was really then we moved on and Peter was an avid reader of the exchange markets and he found this aerosol, which may be frying. Pan non stake, probably highly toxic, but we bought, but twenty cases of this with the idea of knocking tupperware parties, but non stick parties persuading people, you can make it all frying pan nonsense.
and the super long nonstick stayed on the shelves in the frozen food shop for a couple of years before we sold it all right well before we find out about that. First show pretty well, but optimal, music, Sir Malcolm woke at your fourth choice today. What is it? Well? One of the stores I got two iD the summer season in scarborough, which was rare illegal form and then nights out in scarborough had local denzel and the one of the songs popular at the time was. Silence is golden
which the travellers on silences golden, so some welcome. Ok, you went to business with your woolworth's friend peter hinge. Cliff you set up iceland each putting in thirty pounds now leave at one store in oswestry in shropshire. Tell me about that. First year, how did it go? We got no money, so we couldn't fit it out or we couldn't ride a lot of stock, so we were gonna sell for
vegetables. Now we got the idea of selling loose frozen foods in nineteen. Seventy there wasn't the frozen food market there is today would buy catering boxes of peace, fish fingers, beef, burgers, tit them loose into trays in open top freezer and sell him by the shortfall accounts, and that was what was what that's what we started did you have a vision of where you wanted the business to go? We were really serious from the first day. We wanted this to work. We saw it is our future and we used to talk about marks and spencer is not the retailer, but using the words describe quality approach and we never took any money out of the business will still employ by wallace until they found out and fired his and then I got my pension money paid out. So I think we could we survive for six eight months without taking any money out and my wife Annie was a teacher, so we lived on her salary,
it just worked really well from day one, because we open the first shot. Having spent sixty pounds Tween is on the rent were fitted it out with freezes and everything tilden scales on high purchase without having to pay a deposit, and we both frozen food on credit. So actually, at the end of the first, week we got cash in the bank and with nobody to pay only the staff wages he must have been so thrilled. I mean going from having a job that you'd really become very dissatisfied with value. While you know feeling you can't get ahead feeling frustrated, he must have felt like it struck well, it was a bit scary as well, because when woolies found out we'll call down to head office on new, it wasn't for us to get promoted so we got fired and then my god, you know what we don't get on our own, so we better on the second shot quickly which with it in real
and the third one in flint and in the first year we open for because we discovered something called positive cash flow. Every time we opened the shop, our bank balance went up until we start to spend more money on the shops. Now we went into overdraft for the next fifty years. How is he wasn't too binds family life for building the best? there was no emails. So when you, and tell me were home. It was a different world and for the first year to a very long hours, but soon the balance right and I never really were weekends and as we started the family, I was always air for school plays for sports days at home. At the weekend and again people say: oh, I built a successful business, but I never got to know my family. Well, I think that's terrible, alright smoke more markets time for your next piece of music. What have you chosen and why you taking it to the desert island with you, as we grew the business and
We had the children, we would to afford a small house in all and we used to go there more school holidays and those em a restaurant. In more vehicle tony dolly's in italian restaurant and we go. I caught a lot and theirs some guy within accordion who come round the tables playing and he had a voice to match. Elaine page and always ask him to play memory which he did and we also to london, quite debate, sealed lloyd, webby shows- and I just so. I was an amazing so, but this reminds me of tony: always a movie. yeah The
again, Elaine page singing memory from the musical cats composed by andrew lloyd weber, symbol. walk ice and went from strength to strength due in the eightys and ninetys book. The millennium didn't get off to such great step forward. In two thousand and one you are forced to step down to sell in thirteen and a half billion pounds worth of your iceland chairs prior to a profit warning you Today it and laser cleared what happened. I dont forget is running, the business now was tired and I wanted to retire, and that coincided with them as buying booker the cash and carry chain. That is a long story. Don't have time to go into it, but it was a great deal and it since proved to be so anyway that got me a new chief executive, Stuart rose,
maude rose is he is now but tell we add them different views. I thought he was going to run the business and I was retire. He saw it a little bit differently. He disappeared left, holding the baby and fell on no account. In anyway, I found a new boss He joined the business and ate all went wrong, ah share price collapsed and I was forced out so I was fired for the second time in my life. So, instead of retiring. I was so angry decided. I started a new rival frozen food business school cooled trader, which I did run that for four years. And then the new guy had made such a mess of iceland. I was invited back to save it, unsold cool trader to iceland How did you feel about your reputation? Among you, ve, been only on the day was completely trashed. So
for a while. Nobody could look me in the eye because there's no smoke without fire will later it was proved there was no smoke and there was no fire, but at the time that must have been really difficult. Free way was, but I got stuck in the coal try to eat. Come on. I revenge. You went straight into the next day, really cause I'm giving you son regime shanty, a memory of you coming home with you boxes from the office now must have been tough yeah I got to thirty years of club in the office saunter pack, it all of britain transit man and take it home was no they ve been fired from a business that I created. so. The company is now, after several other twists and turns back in family ownership. Am I know that you ve said europe don't worry, I wonder what you worry about these days, electricity Well, I think you're not alone and not to
some of these events and welcome Wilkie or sixth choice. Today, what have you got for? We often used to go to london to see the shows we were really lucky enable to get tickets for one of the very first performances of phantom of the opera with Michael Crawford and said o I've seen that show many times since, but nothing of course, can compare to that first on where those too Thing is we just off the scale, and I m still listen to it. I still think is one of the most magical, an opera. No, what is it a musical police, fantastic? with these two,
yes, All I ask of you, Sir Brian and steve barton from the original london cast of andrew load web as phantom of the opera. Similar more come just think it back on this mozilla. So far you quite a romantic on you too hot. I am a romantic first record so beautiful Absolutely I can see it's all in there in the makes you married Your childhood sweethearts reacted in nineteen sixty eight. Now, though, she died two years ago january, twenty twenty one after having earlier answer alzheimer's and then leaving with it sees for many years. I ve been very fifty two years. How did you cope with it
as you know, is really difficult because symptoms star unnoticed, maybe many years before diagnosis? Just little things irritate, I told you the one at listening. Any real, maybe is an issue when It was issues obviously devastated. Bushes, wasn't sort of person who then google it What the prognoses will hold? Russia, not pilot shoes, one year younger than me, so this was ten He is going choose diagnosed, canvas probably started. Fifteen is so high. Most in early sixties, which should medicine and well for some time. I don't. know how people manage I'm in a very fortunate position in the tackled. Keep it at home. care is ivo, cable tom, until the very end? But if people say you know, you lost your wife two years ago. I didn't I lost ten years ago
to be very tough, to lay someone without being able to fully graves him. The agreed over a long period of time- and you know I've carries on even when she was bed bound for years. I've still got my line. I did everything I could for her at home, but I'm still, only thirty four years old. in your own mind, has a really change the way you look at life, so no, not really but he made me realize what a devastating disease it is in as a family and is a company with now put a lot of effort into raising money for outsiders, research because it was an honour, fashionable and underfunded illness but ass. Changed your outlook, it sounds to me, like you, wrote about what you do rather than reflecting on, though we reflect on what do you think? But when you do
when you look back? Are you a different person now than before? You went through that? No, but it's about how do you manage in your own mind not feeling guilty? do you know you? I'm dying in your still live in your life yeah, and how did you money shot how to tell Suppose you get used to it over a long period of time, it's time for the next piece of music malka with ads several musical tracks, nosey, you in the family spend a little time going to see. Musicals live. It sounds like obviously you evil of that, but it did round of this was your shoes. A great a pianist, although, like any They were the she'd, never play for people shoe shy, but we will develop to taste for opera and we used to go to the opera. and sometimes we go to verona to the opera there. In the roman amphitheatre and us
he'll, do and when us have developed a taste for opera. I don't know anything about it. I can era opera area an account of forgotten which operates from a can't, remember the story, but I just at the arias, and if I was by myself in the car out of choice, I put on an opera aria and a vaccine is a opera for beginners. was an them, the bet, the best of the picture it is laudable aim and for the next record after in an amazing and romantic cam, peace, cold or swarthy fanny cooler, and I think that's how he pronounced the the
the oh swarthy funny to low sweet girl from labelling performed by Luciano pavarotti and morale of rainy with the berlin philharmonic conducted by herbert phone carryin? Some welcome worker I'm about to
Stu away onto you. Does island, of course, now welcome. You have had some pretty wild adventures in your life. You actually for charity, you ve climbed everest. They give up sale down the shadow in all the things you do have some idea of how you cope in extreme situations? Do they not prepare your life? Is a castaway are used Think I'll be really good, is a cast away, but ass thinking going to realise a alike company. I might struggle but practical advantage. Well will let you have one more time before we send you have to your desert island what your final choice today, Malcolm walker, well Life moves on any tasks too, and I feel it lucky to have been given a second chance at life and love. I met natalie, several years ago and we finally got married in august last year we had a small but increased
really beautiful wedding in late como in ITALY, right by the lake, hate was actually just magical. Natalie's got many talents, but one of them is something she hides from people- and I didn't know about it- a friends don't know about it and a perished, don't know about it, but she's, a very, very talent sing and to the surprise of my life and everybody So the wedding she sang an opera aria beautiful, she didn't know if she had managed, so she recorded it first, just in case oh at it happened, she didn't need the record in she sang it perfectly but term after a lot of persuasion, she gave me a copy of the recording on condition and never played it for anybody, but given the I'll be on the island, and only me will hear it, I will take that with my hand it some another picture
condom window some by my wife, Natalie, walk the The The the
cool domaine vous from at as walls from la Boh m, composed by puccini and performed by your wife, Sir Malcolm walk at Natalie walker. Now Malcolm it's time to cast your. way to help you settling on the island, of course, will give you the books to take with you. You'll have the bible and the complete works of shakespeare can also have another book of your choice. What will it be well? Who would have to robinson crusoe, just from practical perspective, are you a dumb. I shall never read it, but I think I should I think it would be good inspiration on how to cope. You could also take a luxury item to help you pass the time more enjoyably what you fancy well, it would have to be something Full necessary and have anything useful, necessary mark will not now ok, that allied cooking and I would joy cooking on the island, fish shellfish, whatever so I'll need
a heavy cast. Iron cooking pot, you're allowed a heavy cast iron cooking pot. Get me cooking, it's it's as much as an animal as anything else so I'll, allow that and if you had to save just one of the eight tracks that you've shared with us today, which would it be, will it if anything, over than quando condom, involve some by my wife, samantha morgan? Thank you. So much for letting us hear your desert island discs. Thank you very much. The aloe. I hope malcolm's happy on his island with his cooking pot in his copy of robinson crusoe. There are more than two thousand programs in our archive which you can listen to, including the programs of representative desert island discs, plum. Late, Michael part, since similarly and kirsty young, you can find their programmes if used three bbc sounds or on our
desert, island discs website the studio manage for today's programme was emma heart thesis and produce. It was christine Pavlovsk iii and the produce it was Sarah Taylor join me. time. When my castaway will be the sports presented, Gabby Logan, the. another thunderstorm lights out? Sometimes I just can't hear difference in the shannon explosions documentary adventures. They invite a coincidence
We were willing to put not only about these on the line. whole being documentary podcast from BBC radio for So do you mind testing this, or what did you have for breakfast say I'm here talk about a traumatic experience. What do you have? Oh, I have might sound on BBC sounds.
Transcript generated on 2023-02-17.