It’s not often I get to write about a boardroom coup in this column but it’s hard to think of any other way to describe Julian Dunkerton’s return to the Superdry board.
Yesterday, Dunkerton secured the thinnest of majorities to return to the business he co-founded with James Holder, prompting a mass exodus of the retailer’s leadership team including chief executive Euan Sutherland and chair Peter Bamford.
Leaving aside whether Dunkerton’s blueprint for reviving the struggling retailer is the right one (and it’s worth noting that many were questioning the direction in which Sutherland was taking the business, doubts borne out in the tanking share price), of more immediate concern is how to replace those that have upped sticks and left, or in the case of four non-executive directors, exit in three months’ time.
The first thing to say is that Dunkerton and Peter Williams, the former Boohoo chair and Selfridges chief executive who has also been re-elected to the board, will not be starting from square one.
Dunkerton was signalling back in December his intention to reclaim a seat on the board and ever since then him and the well-networked Williams will have been busy lining up people to come on board should they win the support of investors.
Some of these may be interim hires given the length of time it takes to secure a permanent retail executive appointment, with 12 month notice periods not unusual in the current market. But at the very least the returning pair will have in mind a number of trusted people who can fill the leadership void during what is set to be a challenging handover period given the animosity on both sides.
Dunkerton has been public in his criticism of the previous board’s strategy and he’s certain to want to take personal ownership of any revival in the retailer’s fortunes. I fully expect him to take on the role of de-facto chief executive for the foreseeable future, while Williams will surely have his eyes on the chairmanship.
Thus far only chief financial officer Ed Barker of the executive team has joined Sutherland in stepping down but we can expect more departures to follow. Some directors loyal to the old regime will leave of their own accord while others whose faces no longer fit will be nudged out the door. We should also expect some churn lower down the ranks among senior and middle managers who decide the new culture is not for them.
The temptation may be for Dunkerton to surround himself with loyal former colleagues; but if this is the plan he should proceed with an element of caution. The market has changed significantly since Superdry’s rapid growth up to the point of its floatation in 2010. This is now a major global business operating in a brutal fashion market with investors to satisfy – many of whom did not support Dunkerton’s reinstatement.
A pragmatic strategy would be to offer an olive branch to the remaining directors and senior managers and supplement their talents with a smattering of new faces.
Time will tell whether Dunkerton and Williams have the desire, or indeed the ability, to pull off such a delicate balancing act.