It’s manbags at dawn. This week, the ding-dong in the Superdry boardroom that has seen co-founder Julian Dunkerton go to war with management will move into its final round – and it promises to be a closely matched fight.
With the bravado of a prizefighter during a weigh-in, on Friday Dunkerton declared “I’m confident we’ll win”, before a shareholder vote on Tuesday that will determine whether he can rejoin the company he quit last year, as he becomes increasingly unhappy with the direction Superdry is going in under new boss Euan Sutherland.
The multimillionaire was pumped up after a late boost to his hard-fought campaign to be reinstated following a collapse in sales and profits. Two of the company’s key shareholders – Investec and Schroders, which together control around 10% of Superdry – appear to be in his corner.
Their slug of shares would add to the 28% holding controlled by Dunkerton and designer James Holder, with whom he started the fashion label in 2003. Holder is also eager to return to designing clothes for the brand that once provided off-duty wardrobes for the likes of David Beckham and Zac Efron but more recently has gone off the boil, and been forced to offer big discounts.
But does Dunkerton really have the fight in the bag? To succeed, the driven entrepreneur – who is also seeking to install Peter Williams, a former boss of Selfridges, as a non-executive director to work alongside him – needs a simple majority of votes cast on the day. “It could go either way,” one person close to the action told the Observer.
On Friday afternoon Shroders ratcheted up the pre-fight tension by refusing to commit itself either way. “We continue to engage with both sides: the meeting is not until Tuesday and our voting instruction will be in the best interests of our clients and the company going forward,” said its head of corporate governance, Daniel Veazey.
Superdry, meanwhile, has publicly received the backing of Aberdeen Standard Investments, which has around 10%, and proxy voting advisory firms ISS and Pirc, whose views guide passive investment funds.
You can imagine that the 6ft 6in Sutherland, whom Dunkerton has accused of being out of his depth in the fashion business and of leading a “failed strategy”, is ready to come out fighting. Superdry shot to fame in the 2000s selling branded hoodies and vintage T-shirts but 15 years later, Sutherland has argued, its co-founder is stuck in the past and the brand needs to move on.
But it’s easy to see why Dunkerton is upset too. More than £150m has been wiped off the value of his 18% stake since he left, and the company’s market value has dwindled so far that it has been booted out of the FTSE 250 index.
The stakes are mounting for everyone on Tuesday. Superdry has warned shareholders that Dunkerton’s return will see board directors quit en masse. Best arrive early for a ringside seat.