Andy Clarke told The Yorkshire Post he did feel some sadness that the firm he led for six years was potentially about to merge but said that consolidation within the supermarket industry was “inevitable”.
Mr Clarke, who ran Asda between 2010 and 2016, was speaking as he was unveiled as the new chairman of Leeds Bradford Airport.
Speaking exclusively to the YP, he said: “I spent 25 years in Asda and Walmart.
“I was there pre and post the acquisition (by Walmart).
“And having six years as the chief exec, I have a very strong sense of emotional connection to the Asda business.
“Whether it is right or wrong, I have got a sense of sadness that if the merger goes ahead and the business gets combined that it of course will not be what it was.
“But then, nothing stays the same.
“The most important thing is that the 140,000 people who work for the firm are protected. For me I grew up with a lot of these people. There are a lot of very long-serving, very loyal collages who work for the Asda business.
“I am sure in the forefront of the management team and directors of both businesses that protecting jobs and services has got be really top of mind.”
The gigantic merger deal between Sainsbury’s and Asda was announced in April of last year and is currently being reviewed by the competition watchdog with a decision due in the next few weeks.
If approved the deal would create one of the UK’s leading grocery, general merchandise and clothing retail groups, with combined revenues of £51 billion
Bosses at Asda and Sainsbury’s have both pledged to safeguard all roles and not to close any stores, although many analysts have said closures may be required to meet competition rules.
Speaking about the supermarket industry which is currently battling discount retailers and online grocery retailers, Mr Clarke said: “It was inevitable there would be some sort of consolidation. Tesco and Booker were sure an example of that. Safeway was acquired by Morrisons years ago.
“The big question was always whether four could become three. And if this goes ahead of course four do become three, even if you do have two facias.
“The overall combined business will be run by one entity I would have thought. I watch with interest as everybody else will be doing as to how it will unfold.”
When asked if it was surprising to him that it was his old firm and Sainsbury’s who were looking to join forces he said he was more taken aback that it was not Asda leading the merger.
“There were a number of different scenarios,” he said.
“I was not all was surprised.
“The Sainsbury’s business has gone through a reasonably pro-acquisitive strategy, Argos of course was the biggest investment before this potential merger.
“I think the surprise is that Asda is performing well and Sainsbury’s is not performing as well.
“But if this was going to happen then somebody was obviously going to have to take the lead and between the two boards Sainsbury’s was the business was the one that took the lead.”