The news that Ted Baker has resisted bringing in an outsider to replace Ray Kelvin as chief executive will I’ll sure be met with surprise in many quarters. Instead, the retailer has turned to a long-term deputy, in the shape of Lindsay Page, who as finance director has worked dutifully beside Kelvin for the past 22 years.
The expectation among many in the industry, including one imagines a number of Ted Baker employees, was that an external appointment would be made, not least as a statement of intent to the market that change is coming following the row over a culture of ‘forced hugging’ (vehemently denied by Kelvin) that resulted in Kelvin’s resignation in March.
The argument for a new face at the top is easy to make but the case is far from black and white. Page has been acting as chief executive since Kelvin took voluntary leave of absence in December. Now freed from the shackles of playing the supporting act to the business’s founder, who built the brand from scratch into a £600m global fashion powerhouse, Page may welcome the opportunity to finally implement his own ideas on how the organisation should be governed and run.
What we do know about Page is that, from an operational perspective, he is arguably more qualified than anyone to run the business having added the role of chief operating officer to his finance duties in 2014.
He takes over at a challenging time after Ted Baker posted a steep decline in its full-year profits despite increased sales, which Page attributed to difficult trading conditions.
But perhaps a bigger test of his leadership is whether Page can convince employees, many of whom signed a petition demanding that a culture of forced hugging was ended, that he is the face of a business that is genuinely committed to cultural change, without completely suppressing the energy and creativity that brought the brand such great commercial success under Kelvin.
In this respect he will have the support of Sharon Baylay, who joined as a non-executive director in June 2018 and will oversee people and culture matters within the company.
Baylay has no shortage of experience of unique workplace cultures having spent much of her career at first Microsoft and then the BBC. Her focus will be on renewing training for employees on HR policies and procedures and on acceptable workplace conduct. An independent and confidential whistleblowing hotline has also been introduced and the company has committed to putting more emphasis on employee matters at a board level.
It’s likely to be a long and at times challenging journey for Ted Baker. Culture change is complex and in many respects immeasurable and there must have been a strong temptation for the board to make a clean break from the past.
Page has the opportunity to show they have made the right decision in keeping their business in-house.