What’s next for Asda? The full story behind the amazing feud between the Issa brothers
Romance and business are a combustible mix for senior executives. And none more so than the relationship between Mohsin Issa, the billionaire Asda tycoon, and chief accountant Victoria Price, a power player in her own right.
Professional networking site LinkedIn is typically a place to promote professional accomplishments, rather than personal accomplishments.
But followers of Price, one of the UK’s top tax experts, noticed a video posted last year in which she appears wearing a large diamond engagement ring.
Their relationship – which has been a poorly kept secret in the City for months – has renewed speculation about the future of Britain’s third-largest supermarket chain.
The engaged couple finally announced their engagement last week. This announcement raises multiple questions about the future of the third largest supermarket in Britain, which is burdened with debts exceeding 4 billion pounds.
Power Game: The relationship between the brothers Mohsen and Zuber is complicated by Mohsen’s engagement to the chief accountant, Victoria Price.
The ring featured on LinkedIn, said to be worth £50,000, is intended for ‘everyday’ wear only. Price’s “real” rock is said to have cost £1 million.
As a self-made billionaire, such expensive trinkets are beyond Mohsin’s reach. But his engagement to Price, a former tax partner at EY, the grocer’s former auditors, has deepened a rift between Mohsen and his younger brother and business partner Zuber, who is said to want out of Asda.
The siblings shocked the city when they bought the grocery giant in a controversial £6.8bn deal three years ago.
Asda has been struggling under Issa, losing market share to German discounters Aldi and Lidl.
At the same time, rising interest rates have increased Asda’s borrowing burden.
The chain was without a CEO for 18 months, leaving Mohsin in charge. He was criticized by MPs for his lack of retail experience and inability to answer simple questions about Asda’s finances.
Reports in the Sunday Telegraph have suggested that Zuber is trying to sell his 22.5 per cent stake in Asda so he can focus on EG Group – the former EuroGarages petrol trading empire which forms the basis of the brothers’ estimated £5bn fortune.
One potential buyer is private equity group TDR Capital, which already owns both Asda and EG Group along with the Issa family. TDR declined to comment.
So where does all this leave Asad? It is understood the pair first met in 2016 – two years before Price presented the pair with the Entrepreneur of the Year award sponsored by EY, where she was a tax partner.
This relationship was “slow moving”, according to one of her friends, partly because they were both married at the time.
Things started to get more serious in 2022 when Price divorced her second husband, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
By then, the Issa family had bought Asda, whose auditors were EY.
The fact that Price was a tax partner at firm auditing Asda, while romantically involved with a director of the same audit client, raised red flags at the big four accountancy firm.
Price had to explain why she would take her sons to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July 2022 when tickets cost more than £100 as a gift to EY partners.
Asda declined to comment, but a source close to the company insisted Asda does not pay for hospitality of any kind.
Price also had to reveal to EY that her eldest son, now 23, worked as a supervisor at a local Asda store in Deeside in 2022.
A source close to Asda said: “Every colleague, without exception, has been subject to and appointed in accordance with Asda’s normal recruitment procedures.”
Price is also understood to have acted as a tax advisor to Mohsen and the Issa family while at EY.
She became a familiar face in the Blackburn complex where he lived with his wife Shamima and Zuber and the parents of brothers Fali Issa and Zubaida Ali. Locals called the nearby mansions “The Five Ugly Sisters.”
Price’s lawyers insist she never worked for Asda, was not a personal tax adviser and disclosed her relationship with a benefactor to EY “at the outset”.
“EY has assured her that she has fulfilled all her obligations and made all appropriate disclosures to the firm’s ethics and compliance teams throughout her career,” the law firm added.
EY declined to comment.
What is not in dispute is that EY had resigned from auditing Asda the day before Price left the company, saying it had resigned by mutual agreement following Asda’s acquisition of EG’s UK forecourt business, and because of the “scheduling requirements” of the audit.
Price has since taken on a senior tax role at management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal.
Opinions are divided about Jesus. Some say they were lucky – and rich – using other people’s money in an era of cheap debt.
“They’re a bit of Marmite, but I think the ‘opportunity’ label is unfair,” retail expert Richard Hyman said.
“Investors don’t invest in businesses like they do when everyone is talking about cutting costs.”
Others question Asda’s business model. Under Mohsin’s leadership, the grocer has gone “all in” on petrol and retail – piling more debt on Asda’s balance sheet in the process.
It’s a company he and Zuber know well – and where Asda is expanding rapidly. Asda has acquired hundreds of sites from Co-op, and more recently from EG Group, adding to its debt pile.
These outlets are being converted into convenience stores with attached fuel pumps and renamed Asda Express. “Whatever you might say about them, they’re not divesting assets,” Hyman said.
Rival grocer Morrison’s has taken a different route. It has just sold 337 fuel forecourts and more than 400 adjacent sites to Motor Fuel Group in a £2.50 deal to help reduce its debt. Morrison chairman and retail veteran Sir Terry Leahy said retail was best left in the forecourt to specialists like MFG.
Hayman added that Asda could raise cash to pay down debt by selling and leasing its store properties – 70 per cent of which is freehold, among the highest in the sector.
Despite concerns about Mohsin’s ability to run the supermarket chain, he has gathered a strong retail team around him, including Liz Evans, who runs George, and Chris Comerford from Tesco.
For businessman Tom Behun, the Isas are a “role model”. With his brother Phil, he co-founded the sportswear brand Castor. “They invested in us and instilled in us an ambition to shine for the stars,” Behun told The Mail on Sunday.
A recent fundraising operation valued Castor at £950 million. This means that the Issa family, who were the largest outside shareholders, have made another fortune.
Will this Midas touch – and brotherly love – prevail in their business empire? Only time will tell.
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(tags for translation) Daily Mail