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Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton faces day of reckoning

Lauretta Roberts
29 March 2019

Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton is gearing up for a crunch shareholder vote next week as his long-running fight to return to the fashion chain’s board nears a climax.

Dunkerton will face an investor ballot on his comeback on Tuesday having left the board last year, but his campaign has so far failed to gain major traction.

While it is understood that one of the firm’s top three investors is now backing his return, he is likely to require the support of several more to secure his seat at the top table.

He was dealt a blow last week when influential investor advisory firms PIRC and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) both recommended shareholders reject his re-election.

Dunkerton is acting with co-founder James Holder and together the pair own 29% of Superdry. They are also seeking to appoint former Boohoo chairman Peter Williams as a board director.

Williams, who is also a former chairman of ASOS and CEO of Selfridges, has said he would act as an impartial figure on the board to ensure fair play and has produced a written declaration to outline his intentions and make it clear he has only recently been introduced to Dunkerton by a mutual broker contact.

"If Superdry plc would like to appoint me to their board, I will bring an independent voice to the board and represent all shareholders."

Peter Williams

In the declaration, which has been posted on the Savesuperdry.com website, established by Dunkerton to support his return, Williams says: "If Superdry plc would like to appoint me to their board, I will bring an independent voice to the board and represent all shareholders. I am not, and if elected to the board, I will not be, a representative of Julian Dunkerton or of James Holder, or their respective interests."

Peter Williams

Peter Williams

In making the case for his return and Williams' appointment, Dunkerton has argued that the retailer’s current management, led by chief executive Euan Sutherland, has presided over a “catastrophic decline” at Superdry.

The retailer has posted a string of disappointing results, including a December profit warning, which Dunkerton believes is evidence that Sutherland is “failing dismally”.

He claims that since January 2018, the strategy pursued by the current management team has destroyed £1.2bn of shareholder value.

"The strategic and leadership failings at Superdry remain clear and the financial and operational impacts are obvious and profound: We know how to fix these issues."

Julian Dunkerton

“The strategic and leadership failings at Superdry remain clear and the financial and operational impacts are obvious and profound: We know how to fix these issues.

“We continue to engage productively with shareholders, and we are hugely encouraged by the positive response to our proposals,” Dunkerton has previously said.

For its part, Superdry has launched its own assault on Dunkerton, branding his attempt to return to the company “extremely damaging”.

It added that his strategy would “fail”, be “divisive” and reintroduce a leadership style that does not fit within the “open-minded collaborative culture, values and operation of the company”.

The shareholder meeting to decide whether to reinstall Mr Dunkerton on the board will take place on 2 April, and the company is recommending that investors vote against his return.

Industry watchers are split on the merits of Dunkerton's return with some believing the founder is best placed to fix the issues, while others say his public campaign to be reinstated has been damaging to the business and some of the strategic and product issues he highlights were put in place while he was still in the business.

Additionally the business has just appointed a respected former Nike executive Phil Dickinson as creative director (effectively replacing Dunkerton's product led role at the business) and some shareholders are keen to give him time to make an impact.

Dunkerton has pledged to retain his sizeable shareholding if he is reappointed and, while he hasn't been explicit, in saying he will sell it if he isn't, it seems likely that he would. While severing ties completely with the brand he started from a market stall would appear to be a great shame, Dunkerton is a natural and highly successful entrepreneur. Walking away from Superdry could free him up to focus his attention on new projects, preferably in fashion, which would be an exciting thought.

Additional reporting: The Press Association 


Read Superdry's detailed intelligence profile and scroll through its news archive in our fashion industry master database, The Intelligence.

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