Julian Dunkerton started out selling clothes at a stall in Cheltenham in 1985. Now he has built a global brand present in 46 countries and is venturing into drinks and hotels. Jane Lewis reports.
Asked earlier this year what ambitions he still had, the founder of Superdry said he’d “love to be whispering in the government’s ear on making economic decisions”. Dunkerton has since upped his influence with his wallet.
Over the summer he donated £1m to the People’s Vote campaign, which is demanding a new referendum on the terms of Brexit. His largesse “catapults him into a small group of people to make six-figure political donations in Britain”, says The Observer. He is a useful figurehead for those who want to revisit the decision. The noisiest and most colourful entrepreneurs have tended towards the Leave camp.
Dunkerton’s extraordinary drive makes him all the more useful, says Hilary Alexander in The Times. Dunkerton, 53, says that “in a 40-year career every business he has founded has been a success. Not one was a dud.” He still plans to build Superdry into “a huge global brand with the largest online presence of any brand on the planet”. But for the past few years he’s been easing his way out of the company, which now has outlets in 46 countries, and no longer has any daily involvement in the running of the business.
Dunkerton, who is worth £366m, retains a big stake in the FTSE 250 group, but recently cashed in a chunk of shares for £71m. “I was getting married”, he says, and shrugs, setting his bracelets jangling. “I’ve done 30 years in that business. It was time to focus on my other businesses.”
Dunkerton cites his father, Ivor, as his first business mentor, noting that he “taught me never, ever to settle for anything that could be better”, says the FT. His own education wasn’t inspiring. Dunkerton then was more interested in clothes and started trading from a Cheltenham stall under the label Cult Clothing in 1985.
“There was a guy I watched selling carpet remnants when I was about 16 or 17 – he made me realise there was no limit to how much money you could make buying and selling, as you’re not using your own labour.” Dunkerton reckons his own particular skill has always been spotting a gap in the market and filling it.
In 2003 he teamed up with James Holder to found Superdry, managing to establish the brand in the edgy niche in men’s clothing that it has occupied ever since. In 2010 the pair floated SuperGroup. Relations with the City haven’t always been easy, says the Financial Times. Following some “schoolboy maths blunders” shortly after its debut, the group emerged as a “serial issuer of profit warnings”.
There was recognition early on that Dunkerton’s “instinctive” entrepreneurship could “cause fraying at the seams”. He stepped back, and stability seems to be reigning.
Branching out into cider
Last year Dunkerton bought the Lucky Onion group of boutique hotels and pubs in the Cotswolds. But it turns out that, for him, 2018 has been “all about apples”, says The Times. Dunkerton’s new all-encompassing ambition is to build the small, organic cidery started by his parents in Herefordshire 30 years ago – which he recently moved to shiny new premises on his own estate near Cheltenham – into an artisanal empire, “like a blokey Daylesford”.
Dunkerton notes with some satisfaction that the business is doubling in size every year. “Typically, he’s plotting world domination.”