The comeback kings: founders desperate to take back control

Julian Dunkerton won fight to rejoin Superdry but it’s not always a case of many happy returns

The Times | April 6, 2019

The Times article, “The comeback kings: founders desperate to take back control," quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Luke Meynell. In the article, Luke highlights how a company founder may not always be the right person to take the company to the next level.

Four years after being fired by Iceland Foods, Sir Malcolm Walker walked back into the business in February 2005 with trepidation and recalls the relief he quickly felt: “It took me all of 48 hours to realise that every part of the business had been comprehensively screwed up, but that it was going to be easy to sort out. It was laughable the things that were wrong.”

The place, he says, was awash with committees, steering groups, PWC consultants and new bureaucratic processes. Head-office numbers had mushroomed from 800 to 1,400 in the years he’d been away, while sales were down 25 per cent.

Sir Malcolm, 73, is one of a select group of business leaders who have founded a business, seen it prosper, seen it stumble, been kicked out, been reinstalled and then restored it to health. The 900-store chain today is not quite as profitable as it was in the early 2010s, but is still making well over £100 million a year.



The returning founder has the legitimacy and credibility with colleagues and investors to kill off the projects, products and policies of the previous management. That happened with Jobs, who unsentimentally axed a string of Apple projects, and Mr Schultz at Starbucks, who went to the extreme of shutting US cafés to retrain employees in making a decent cup of coffee.

However, some are more sceptical. Luke Meynell, who leads the board practice at Russell Reynolds, the headhunter, argues that “companies need to evolve. They get bigger and more complex. The entrepreneur who built the business may not necessarily be the right person to take it to the next level. This often requires a leader with broad management skills honed across a range of businesses.”

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The comeback kings: founders desperate to take back control