Retail

Superdry co-founder Dunkerton back as CEO


A bitter struggle at the top of UK fashion chain Superdry has ended in victory for co-founder Julian Dunkerton, who has been narrowly voted back on to the company’s board, prompting the resignation of the incumbent leadership team.

The shock win was flagged ahead of a shareholder meeting called by Mr Dunkerton and packed with his supporters. Mr Dunkerton won his seat with 51.15 per cent support. Peter Williams, a veteran retail executive, was elected to the board by the same margin.

Following the emergency board meeting that followed the vote, chairman Peter Bamford and chief executive Euan Sutherland resigned with immediate effect, along with chief financial officer Ed Barker and Penny Hughes, head of the remuneration committee. The remaining non-executive directors will stand down on July 1.

Mr Williams will take over as chairman while Mr Dunkerton — who said during the meeting that he was prepared to “work with anybody as long as they do what’s best for the company” — was appointed interim chief executive.

During the shareholder meeting, Chas Howes, chief financial officer of Superdry until 2012 and still a shareholder, accused the board of a failure to understand the brand and an “appalling” financial performance. He said that the staff had “gone stale” and that Superdry’s “talented young designers lacked leadership and direction”.

One shareholder, who said he had previously worked at Burberry and Marks and Spencer, criticised members of the board who “had made it difficult” for Mr Dunkerton. “The CEO and chairman should go,” he said. “And some of the non-executive directors who aren’t doing their job properly.”

The meeting was visibly awkward for the existing directors, who filed into the room in silence and — apart from Mr Bamford — did not speak. Mr Bamford said it was “not fruitful” to go over the row again.

The vote brings to a head months of public back-and-forth over Superdry’s waning fortunes and how to reverse them. The company issued two profit warnings in quick succession last year after an unusually warm summer and autumn limited sales of its trademark hoodies and coats. Its shares have fallen 63 per cent during the past year and it was demoted from the mid-cap FTSE 250 index at the last review.

Mr Dunkerton and co-founder James Holder have argued that Superdry needs to return to its design-led roots to stem the drop in its sales and its profit margin. But Superdry’s board had said the company should remain committed to the “global digital brand strategy” that Mr Dunkerton opposed.

This entailed fewer individual product lines, an expansion into other countries, more online sales and diversification from the staples of hoodies and coats into areas such as skiwear and childrenswear.

They also said they believed Mr Dunkerton’s return would be “extremely damaging” and claimed that the recent run of poor sales was partly down to products that Mr Dunkerton had overseen before he stepped down.

Leading shareholder advisers such as Glass Lewis and ISS had advised investors to vote against the board changes. But some actively managed funds, including those run by Investec and Schroders had indicated they would vote in favour of Mr Dunkerton’s return. The investment banking division of Investec resigned as Superdry’s broker after the vote, along with UBS.



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