Former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton in frame to become chairman of value fashion group.

Former Asda chief executive Allan Leighton is front-runner to become chairman of value fashion group Peacocks, Retail Week has learned.

The likely appointment of Leighton, which is expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks, would be a coup for privately owned Peacocks, which is thought to be considering future options including an IPO or sale.

Leighton would bring a wealth of public and private company experience including deals; along with Archie Norman he sold Asda to US giant Walmart in 1999.

He is deputy chairman of Selfridges - controlled by the Weston family with whom he also works closely as president of Canadian grocer Loblaw - and was chairman of Bhs following its takeover by tycoon Sir Philip Green.

Peacocks was taken private in 2006 by chief executive Richard Kirk and is backed by hedge funds Och-Ziff and Perry Capital.

The retailer has had no chairman for more than five years since previous incumbent Gavin Simonds stood down following the company’s delisting.

Last year bidders were understood to be circling the retailer but no deal emerged as potential suitors baulked at the £600m price tag.

Retail Week revealed earlier this year (February 11) that headhunter Heidrick & Struggles had been drafted in to find a new chairman, prompting speculation the retailer’s owners were considering an eventual exit. Fran Minogue, who this month left the recruitment specialist, is understood to have led the search.

Since then, Peacocks has entered exclusive talks with private equity firm Duke Street Capital about a sale of its Bonmarché chain, further fuelling industry expectations that wider ownership changes are on the cards.

Leighton famously ‘went plural’ after leaving Asda and took up a wide range of directorships. He is a former chairman of the Royal Mail and remains chairman of privately owned jeweller Pandora and a non-executive director of broadcaster BSkyB.

Earlier this month he added to his portfolio of retail roles when he became chairman of Entertainment Magpie, an online buyer and re-seller of music, games and similar products, in which he also took a stake.

Retail Week Knowledge Bank director Robert Clark said Leighton would bring profile as well as expertise to Peacocks.

He said: “It does seem to signal an evolution of some sort, especially since they did without a chairman for so long. His appointment shows the company is looking towards its longer-term future.”

No comment was available from Leighton. Sources close to Peacocks said the retailer is in talks with a number of candidates. Peacocks chief executive Richard Kirk said: “We have had a good start to the year and are looking to recruit a new chairman as we take the company to the next stage. This is an ongoing process which we hope to complete by the summer.”