The pair’s mother, Zubeda, who initially worked in the textile industry when she and her late husband moved over to the UK from India, is understood to be particularly proud her sons have bought the grocery chain. Asma also revealed that “they actually hate being dubbed the billionaire brothers, they try to avoid the media as much as possible”.
But when it comes to business, some say the new owners are keen to shake things up quickly. They say there is no longer room for debate, and there isn’t a “clearly laid out strategy and a plan”.
“There is a desire to push through on a few things they were very keen on, which I think aren’t necessarily the right things to be doing,” says one source.
During a recent court hearing as part of a wide deal to take over Caffè Nero, which has not materialised, Mohsin said he did not need to ask for permission from the [EG] board before pursuing deals. Shedding some light on their modus operandi, he said: “I do not need ratification or approval at any point.”
What is known is that the brothers are rolling out nearly 230 Asda stores on petrol station forecourts with the grocer supplying products on a wholesale agreement to EG Group, which will own and operate each site on its forecourts.
When they bought the company, the Issas said they would target the convenience sector, while growing Asda’s large stores and online business.
Fraser McKevitt, head of retail at data firm Kantar, welcomes their move: “There is a huge opportunity in [convenience] to tap into the 3.7bn take-home grocery trips of less than £20 made every year.”
While some critics argue they lack the nous to efficiently run the vast sheds of products Asda is known for, supporters point to recent tie-ups with the likes of fashion brand Missguided to sell its goods in 100 stores as well as Rawr Beauty, New Look, Maximuscle, My Protein and Lee Wrangler. The initiatives are meant to attract more customers to large stores.
While their management style may differ from Asda’s norm over the past two decades, one City source says the Issas are the “taskmasters” of partnerships after inking deals with fast-food chain KFC, Starbucks, Subway and Greggs.
Any change of ownership is typically received with scepticism, but with the Blackburn brothers at the helm of Asda, the time is ripe for modernisation.
As one City source adds: “The future of retail is what Amazon is doing. If you’re going to go up against Amazon you’ve got to think differently.”