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Superdry co-founder wins vote, takes interim CEO post

Published
today Apr 2, 2019
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Superdry co-founder Julian Dunkerton needed 50% of shareholders to vote in his favour to get back onto the struggling retailer's board. And on Tuesday, at a key investor meeting that he himself had called, he won his battle, having gathered 51.15% of the votes. 


Julian Dunkerton


And Dunkerton ally Peter Williams, who used to be CEO of Selfridges and chairman of Boohoo, was also voted onto the board.

So how did the team of directors react? They quit, including CEO Euan Sutherland and Chairman Peter Bamford. The result is that Dunkerton is now interim CEO and Williams is chairman.

"We have a wonderful opportunity to take this brand and this business to the next, exciting phase of its growth and development,” Dunkerton said. “I can't wait to get started and to work with the directors, the talented staff and our partners to deliver the future of Superdry. The hard work starts now.”

The company’s second biggest shareholder Aberdeen Asset Management, had backed Superdry management, but with two major shareholders voting for Dunkerton and he and co-founder James Holder controlling a large chunk of the shares, it wasn’t enough. Outgoing chairman Peter Bamford said: “Whilst the board was unanimous in its view that the resolutions should be rejected and 74% of shareholders other than Julian and [co-founder] James [Holder] have voted against, there was a narrow overall majority in favour and we accept that outcome.”

It's a comeback that few thought would actually happen several months ago with the Superdry board, its chairman and its CEO, seeming to have the backing of shareholders to continue their own strategy. It was a strategy that had been heavily criticised by Dunkerton who is the largest shareholder in the company, although his holding of just under 19% meant he needed to convince others of his arguments in order to fight his way back.

Dunkerton had quit the firm in 2018 due to the strategy disagreements and in recent days, the dispute between the co-founder and the executive team had become even more acrimonious with a war of words bringing in not only who was to blame for the firm’s problems but Dunkerton’s management style.

It's difficult to know who has the right strategy in this dispute. Dunkerton believes the company should make the most of what made it such a huge success story in the first place and offer a wide product range. Meanwhile Sutherland has been cutting SKUs while trying to draw in new customers with initiatives such as kidswear and less obvious branding on the clothes. The kidswear move may now be cancelled.

Regardless of those strategies, the firm has struggled in a tough trading environment and has encountered difficulties due to its heavy reliance on cold weather clothing. This was a problem during last year’s very hot summer and during the relatively mild winter.

This has driven the share price down sharply from a height of around £20 in January last year to £5 each at the moment. And the share price didn't seem to get a boost from the results of Tuesday’s vote. It closed the day down almost 9% compared to Monday’s closing price.

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