Clarke has been drafted in as managing director of Iceland after spending a period as group retail director at Matalan. Before that he worked at Asda for 10 years where his last post was as retail director.
He left Matalan more than a year ago when his boss and former Asda colleague Paul Mason abruptly quit as chief executive.
Little is known about his modus operandi, although Justin Linger, head of the retail practice at Harvey Nash, believes his Asda background will stand him in good stead. “Clarke is operationally sound because Asda is good at operations and head office.”
However, the general consensus is that he has a tough job on his hands.
Robert Clark, of Retail Knowledge Bank, says: “However good he is, Iceland is a difficult job to take on. Boots and Sainsbury are easier to turn around because they are leadership-driven. Iceland is all about corporate positioning.”
King left Asda in September 2002 to join Marks & Spencer.
At Asda he was head of hypermarkets and at M& S he headed up its food business. This included rolling out its Simply Food chain.
Sainsbury then came knocking when it needed a new chief executive but King is understood to have initially turned the job down. However, he accepted at the second time of asking. Former colleagues at Asda are said to have been surprised that he landed the M&S job and even more so that he got the Sainsbury role.
Richard Brown, of Cognosis, believes King has a tough job because, unlike Asda, JS has not “fully appreciated people-oriented stuff”. He adds: “Its leadership hasn’t understood that the secret is in motivating people.” People skills is certainly high on King’s priority list. But RW Baird’s Paul Smiddy describes the job as a big leap. “He’s been asked to do strategic things and make lots of changes.”