Viking raider makes another foray on Britain's high streets

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The Independent Online

Jon Asgeir Johannesson is not a name that trips off the tongue. Not yet at any rate. But given the prolific rate at which the 36-year-old chairman of Baugur is buying up the UK high street it soon could be. After all, the average Joe or Joanna hadn't heard of Philip Green not so long ago.

Jon Asgeir Johannesson is not a name that trips off the tongue. Not yet at any rate. But given the prolific rate at which the 36-year-old chairman of Baugur is buying up the UK high street it soon could be. After all, the average Joe or Joanna hadn't heard of Philip Green not so long ago.

Mr Johannesson already runs Iceland's leading retailer. Could he one day also claim the same honour in the UK? Baugur has spread its retailing net wide in Britain. It owns Hamleys, the Regent Street toy shop group, Goldsmith, the jeweller, the Oasis-to-Karen Millen mini womenswear empire, and Julian Graces, a health food chain.

Baugur - which is ancient Icelandic for "ring of strength" - crept on to the UK retailing scene in 2000,when it started buying shares in the then-struggling Arcadia. But it took the group's attempt to acquire the Top Shop-to-Dorothy Perkins group a year later for anyone to sit up and take notice.

A second attempt to buy Arcadia, this time after teaming up with one Mr Green, went awry after its Reykjavik offices were raided by the police, but by then little could hold back the "Viking raiders". Plus it had to spend the £75m profit it made from selling its stake in Arcadia to Mr Green on something.

Despite his pop star looks, Mr Johannesson was born into a retailing family. He cut his teeth at the family supermarket business and, when he was just 21, helped his father to set up what has since become a sprawling global retail group. The Johannesson family still owns 30 per cent of Baugur, after taking the company public in 1998.

Mr Johannesson's appetite for growth has made him something of a controversial figure in his native Iceland, not least because as well as controlling almost half of the country's food retailing market, it also owns two of the country's three daily newspapers, the main commercial television and radio stations, and has significant holdings in the insurance and property sectors to boot.

A commission set up by the Icelandic government found Baugur's dominant position was unmatched in any other democracy, prompting the country's prime minister, David Oddsson, to shake up the media ownership laws.

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