ALLAN Leighton, the Co-operative Group’s chairman, has reportedly agreed to chair the restaurant chain Wagamama as it prepares for expansion into the US market.
Mr Leighton, who helped to transform the performance of Leeds-based supermarket chain Asda in the 1990s, is set to join the Wagamama board this week, according to The Sunday Times.
The company, which is owned by the private equity firms Duke Street and Hutton Collins, already has outlets in Boston in the US.
Mr Leighton told The Sunday Times: “We’re in expansion mode. We could easily have a couple of hundred restaurants in the US eventually - that’s the scale of our ambition.”
Wagamama - which means “naughty child” in Japanese - launched its first restaurant in 1992 in London’s Bloomsbury. The business was inspired by fast-paced, Japanese restaurants. It recently opened a restaurant at the Trinity Leeds shopping centre.
Nobody was immediately available for comment from Wagamama, Duke Street or Hutton Collins.
In April, Mr Leighton revealed that the Co-operative Group had posted a return to profit, but warned that its members will have to wait until 2018 for a resumption in dividend payments.
The Co-op is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned by more than eight million members. It is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer with almost 2,800 local, convenience and medium-sized stores.
The mutual was brought to its knees by a series of blunders, including the takeover of Britannia building society in 2009, an ill-fated move that resulted in it losing control of its banking arm.
The crises triggered an overhaul of its governance, including the appointment of a new board, led by Mr Leighton.
In recent years, Mr Leighton has also played a major role in the revival of Pace, the Saltaire-based TV technology company.
In April, it was announced that Pace was to be sold to US rival Arris Group for over £1.5bn in a deal that is expected to safeguard Pace’s 500 UK employees and provide a bumper payout for investors. Mr Leighton became Pace’s chairman in 2011.
Three months ago, it was confirmed that Mr Leighton, the former Asda CEO, will be made redundant following the deal, but he stands to gain around £1.5m if he chooses to cash in his shares.