His time at Asda may have been short-lived, but King is held in high regard as his appointment as managing director of Wickes shows. Nicola Harrison reports
Simon King is not one to shy away from a spot of DIY. A good job too, because he was this week appointed Wickes’ new managing director.
King is understood to be a dab hand at home improvement, which should stand him in good stead as he tries to get to grips with power tools and grouting after decades in the grocery sector.
King earned his spurs in food, with a long stint at Tesco. According to one source that knows him, senior management at the UK’s largest retailer held him in very high regard, including Sir Terry Leahy.
Wickes has made a good hire in King, the source says. “He’s a heavyweight. He has broad experience, having worked internationally and in the UK, and has food and non food experience. He’s a big player.”
His most recent role was at Asda, where he was second in command, working under president and chief executive Andy Clarke. However, the job did not last long. Having been appointed in January, King left in June. There was no reason given by the grocer at the time, although sources close to Asda said that things “didn’t work out”.
The short stint does not seem to have knocked his reputation though.
Halfords chief executive David Wild, who worked with King at Tesco, says: “He’s bright, understands customers, is keen to learn and is very good with people.”
Justin Linger, director of headhunter Barracuda, says King is a “great hire” for Wickes, and that he could easily move up the ranks at parent Travis Perkins. “They’ve got a person who provides clear succession capability for the future,” he says.
Before his Asda role, King was based in Saudi Arabia a supermarket group Panda. His international experience is extensive. At Tesco he headed territories including South Korea, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Most recently he was the boss of Tesco’s Turkey business.
At Asda he was hired for his abilities in supply chain, distribution, customer service and internal communications – a broad spectrum that will help him in his managing director role at Wickes.
Although the unnamed source says King is a “cerebral guy” who has the “mental agility” to switch from food to DIY, it is not just the change in products King will have to get used to.
While he has worked in a sector that has enjoyed astonishing growth over the last two decades, he will have to adapt to a new trading environment in DIY. The downturn in home-related purchases worsened in the recession and the years since, resulting in the big players – Wickes, B&Q and Homebase – battling hard for their share of the dwindling spend, while others, namely Focus, have fallen by the wayside.
However, Wickes has been holding its own as it capitalises on its strength catering for the trade end of the market. It has also been adapting to meet the new opportunities multichannel presents, such as the downsizing of its big sheds as online plays a bigger part.
King will be expected to continue this momentum and lead from the front. As the former captain of his local rugby team, he should be able to nail at least this aspect of his new job.
Wickes in numbers
Like-for-likes Flat in the six months to June 30, when the retailer said it had gained market share
Total sales Up 2%
Multichannel sales Up 40%