Superdry’s founder wins comeback fight

Julian Dunkerton
Image caption Julian Dunkerton co-founded Superdry in 2003

Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton has won his bid to be reinstated to the board of the company he founded.

Investor votes gathered ahead of a shareholder meeting, showed a narrow majority of 50.75% were in favour of Mr Dunkerton’s return.

Mr Dunkerton, who left the chain a year ago, has blamed new management for a collapse in sales and profits and vowed to return the firm to its former glory.

Superdry’s board had threatened to resign if Mr Dunkerton won the vote.

Votes cast at the shareholder meeting itself are not expected to change the outcome, the chain’s chairman Peter Bamford said.

He said the board would hold an emergency meeting this afternoon.

The fashion chain had urged investors to reject Mr Dunkerton’s return, saying it would be “extremely damaging”.

In a separate motion proposed by Mr Dunkerton, votes ahead of the meeting suggested a majority of shareholders (50.74%) were also in favour of the appointment of Peter Williams, chairman of online retailer Boohoo, as a non-executive director.

The vote comes amid a long-running dispute over the clothing brand’s strategy.

Mr Dunkerton – who owns 18% of the company – was chief executive until 2014, when former Co-op chief executive Euan Sutherland took over the role. However, Mr Dunkerton remained at the company as creative director until he left a year ago.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Superdry chief executive Euan Sutherland took the helm in 2014

Since Mr Dunkerton’s departure Superdry’s shares have plunged by 65%, and he and Mr Sutherland have argued over who is responsible for the brand’s decline.

The current management plans to branch out into childrenswear and is also trying to broaden its range away from the firm’s roots of branded hoodies, jackets and T-shirts.

In contrast, Mr Dunkerton had argued the brand should continue to focus on products that made it famous. He said venturing into childrenswear was a mistake, saying a 16-year-old “quite categorically”, will not want to wear the same brand as their five-year-old kid brother.

Analysts at Peel Hunt said the fact that Mr Dunkerton had won the vote meant chief executive Euan Sutherland was now “almost almost certain to leave”, but said it was still uncertain whether other board members would follow.

“Next steps will likely see the kidswear launch scrapped and a step up in new product innovation. We sense there will be some upfront costs and disruption before Julian’s recovery plan starts to take shape,” they added.

Two big institutional shareholders – Investec and Schroders, which together control about 10% of the shares – backed Mr Dunkerton’s return.

But the company’s second largest shareholder, Aberdeen Asset Management, sided with Superdry management, and influential investor advisory firms PIRC and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) had both recommended that shareholders should reject Mr Dunkerton’s re-election.

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