Boardroom break-ups: Departing Founders

From lawsuits and ‘forced hugging’ allegations to problems with the new boss, the last few months have seen several founders departing from their brands, and not always out of choice. Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest company break-ups that have shaken the boardroom of late.

Superdry vs Julian Dunkerton
In what is proving to be the bout of 2019 in the British business world, the founder of British retail chain Superdry, Julian Dunkerton, has gone head-to-head with those who replaced him, fighting it out to get back his seat at the top management table. Superdry’s public relations machine has gone into overdrive to paint Dunkerton as responsible for their underperforming clothing ranges, with the high street brand’s share price nosediving over the past year as they fight it out in the column inches. The board are due to vote in April for changes and it will remain to be seen if Dunkerton’s return will be heroic or instead, a failed coup.

Ted Baker vs Ray Kelvin
Allegations surfaced towards the end of 2018 that the Chief Executive and founder of fashion brand Ted Baker, Ray Kelvin, had enforced a culture of “forced hugging” and inappropriate behaviour with staff at his head office. Kelvin, who famously does not like to be interviewed or have his photograph taken, was given an enforced leave of absence by the company as an independent investigation was conducted by external law firm Herbert Smith Freehills.

To have such a scandal on your own doorstep especially in this tough retail climate is not ideal and Ted Baker have tried to act swiftly. Acting Chief Executive Lindsay Page has agreed to take the reins at the company as the probe continues to focus on Ted Baker’s policies, procedures and handling of complaints. Of course, the brand damage the entire affair has caused is hard to mend, but without Kelvin at the helm after three decades, it’s all change at the top of Ted.

Jo Malone vs Jo Malone
“I lost my best friend” is how the founder of her namesake cosmetics brand now describes walking away from the company she founded, when it was sold to behemoth Estee Lauder in 2006. When discussing her decision to leave the brand she’d created from the kitchen of her Chelsea flat aged 15, she spoke about employment anxiety after a contract installed on her departure stated she could not speak about the brand or raise her head about the parapet for five years.

Many founders who are the creative force behind the brands they establish often speak about the difficulties they encounter on leaving the company. Much like any break-up, the idea that they will be cast-off and expected to ride off into the distance with their bags of money irk many. Equally, the notion of getting their teeth into a new venture that could well fail and separate themselves from their previous company often proves difficult. Jo Malone’s newest venture Jo Loves is now thriving in Belgravia and has become her “new best friend”.

Instagram & Facebook vs. Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger
The co-founders of photo-sharing giant Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, both left the firm at the end of September 2018. The duo had been at Instagram since the beginning and there had been reports of tension between the pair and Facebook after the social media giant purchased the company. Recently at SXSW in Austin, TX, Systrom said that losing independence over the app they had created was ultimately a sign of its success. He added that the more investment you put into recruitment and bringing more and more skilled workers into the company, the less autonomy you have. The pair have now left to “explore our curiosity and creativity again”.

Papa John’s vs John Schnatter
Papa John’s has struck a deal with its founder John Schnatter, in a move that should help draw a line under the acrimonious battle for control of America’s third-largest pizza delivery chain. Under the terms of the agreement, Mr Schnatter has agreed to give up his seat on the board and drop lawsuits against the company in return for getting a say in identifying a replacement director. The man who set up Papa John’s in 1984 has been back and forth in legal action with the company over the course of the past year. This emerged after he was refused access to the company’s records due to an issue over the language he used on a teleconference call with an external agency. Now that Schantter will get his voice heard by the board, he is happy to drop all existing lawsuits and he still retains his 31% stake in the pizza giant.

Saying goodbye to a company you’ve created from nothing is never easy, and only time can tell whether making that decision will prove fruitful for both the business and your personal reputation.

Having a solid PR strategy when moving on from a brand you’ve built is crucial and can be the difference between an amicable departure and a bruised reputation. If you think you could benefit from an enhanced public standing, or have a need to manage your online profile, The PHA Group can help. Take a look at some of our credentials here.

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