Rocketing to the top

Archie Norman represents the new breed of young British chief executives. Now 41, he was just 37 when he was appointed chief executive of Asda, then a virtual shipwreck saddled with pounds 1m of debts and a reputation for down-at-heel supermarkets.

At the time, he was the youngest chief executive of a big public company. Last year he was paid pounds 470,000 and his Asda share options are worth pounds 2.5m.

With boyish good looks and an affable manner, the chief executive job was the culmination of a sparkling career. His route to the top began with an MBA at Harvard, followed by spells at Citibank and McKinsey, the management consultant. Then followed a move to Woolworths - later renamed Kingfisher - as finance director in 1986.

Since his departure Kingfisher has fallen on hard times while Asda has picked up the mantle of recovery story.

There is little of the eighties excesses about the man who lists his recreations in Who's Who as farming, fishing and opera. Low-key, softly- spoken and charming, he has been described as more like a Conservative politician than a thrusting entrepreneur.

Taking the Asda job was a gamble - though, as a City analyst said at the time - a calculated one. "If he fails, he can say it was a hopeless situation and nothing could be done; if he succeeds, he could cash in his options and retire."