Superdry urges investors to reject co-founder’s board bid

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SuperGroup Superdry urges investors to reject co-founder's board bid

Fashion chain says Julian Dunkerton’s return would be ‘extremely damaging’

Julian Dunkerton stepped back from Superdry a year ago. Photograph: SuperGroup/PA

Superdry is calling on shareholders to reject co-founder Julian Dunkerton’s bid to get back on the board, arguing in a strongly worded statement that the former chief executive’s return would be “extremely damaging” to the business.

The struggling fashion brand, which has posted a series of profit warnings, said it would hold a meeting on 2 April in London, following a demand from Dunkerton and James Holder, who together founded the firm in 2003.

The company strongly urged shareholders to oppose the return of Dunkerton, who stepped back from the business a year ago. His plan also involves installing Peter Williams, the chairman of online fashion retailer Boohoo, as a non-executive director.

In recent months, Dunkerton has been vocal in his criticism of Superdry bosses, led by Euan Sutherland, attacking a lack of innovation in its ranges and a management “out of their depth”.

But Superdry said Dunkerton, as the company’s former brand and product director – the role to which he wants to return – had “prime executive responsibility for the design direction, range selection and range build of the autumn/winter 2018 range, which contributed to the company’s underperformance”. It added that he had failed to accept any responsibility for the range.

The retailer warned Dunkerton’s return would be “extremely damaging to the company and its prospects” and would lead to the failure of its strategy.

Superdry said it had the backing of institutional shareholders for its strategy and management team and that none had indicated any support for Dunkerton’s return.

It accused Dunkerton of a lack of transparency, saying he was nominated as a non-executive director – requiring approval from more than 50% of investors – even though he had confirmed to the board that he wanted an executive role responsible for product, brand and marketing, which would require approval from at least 75% of shareholders.

Superdry urged investors not to vote for Williams to join the board on the grounds that he was nominated as an independent non-executive director – but would be representing the interests of Dunkerton and Holder and therefore would not be independent.

Last week Superdry announced up to 200 job cuts at its head office as part of a £50m cost-cutting plan. At its half-year sales update in December it blamed unseasonal temperatures for poor sales of its hoodies and winter jackets, and wants to reduce its reliance on the heavily branded items that helped make the Superdry name.

The retailer wants to sell more sportswear, tapping into the athleisure trend, along with more womenswear and denim, and is poised to launch a kidswear range in the autumn.

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But Dunkerton and Holder, who would return to designing clothes as part of their plan, have been opposed to childrenswear, the company said, stressing that nearly 200 wholesalers had ordered the new autumn-winter range.

Dunkerton remains Superdry’s largest shareholder, with an 18.4% stake; Holder, who who created the brand’s Japanese-style logos and resigned from the firm in 2016, has a 9.7% stake.

Shares in Superdry have lost nearly three-quarters of their value over the past year. On Monday, the company’s share price was down about 1% at 517p.

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