Ray Kelvin

Ec­cen­tric mas­ter of the ‘hug zone’ with fash­ion in his blood

The Guardian - - FINANCIAL - Sarah But­ler

Ask al­most any­one who has met Ray Kelvin, the founder and boss of Ted Baker, and it is more than likely they will have a story about be­ing hugged. City an­a­lysts, jour­nal­ists, staff, sup­pli­ers and bankers alike tell of the snap­pily dressed chief ex­ec­u­tive tak­ing them in swift em­braces or long and in­tense bear hugs, plant­ing kisses or even de­mand­ing press-ups.

But this week Ted Baker re­moved the “hug zone” – a de­mar­cated area out­side Kelvin’s of­fice – as the com­pany be­gan an over­haul of its cul­ture as a re­sult of more than 300 cur­rent and for­mer staff sign­ing a

pe­ti­tion call­ing for an end to “forced hugs” and al­leged ha­rass­ment by Kelvin. Staff of both sexes have com­plained not just of un­wanted hugs but have ac­cused Kelvin of ear kiss­ing, shoul­der mas­sages and ask­ing young fe­male mem­bers of staff to sit on his knee.

The cam­paign­ing group says it has since sent more than 100 anonymised re­ports of al­leged ha­rass­ment to the Ted Baker board of di­rec­tors.

Un­til this week, Kelvin’s hugs were just seen as part of a quirky cul­ture at Ted Baker’s Lon­don head of­fice, which Kelvin has de­scribed as part of “car­ing and lov­ing peo­ple”. But since the Observer re­ported the al­le­ga­tions of ha­rass­ment last week­end, a darker side to the Ted Baker cul­ture ap­pears to have emerged. Ac­counts of hug­ging

turn­ing into an un­wanted sit on the knee or a hand around the waist al­legedly drift­ing down­wards have emerged in the trade jour­nal Re­tail Week. When the al­le­ga­tions were put to Kelvin by one of the mag­a­zine’s re­porters he re­sponded: “If they are happy to sit on my knee…” be­fore trail­ing off.

Ted Baker has now called in law firm Her­bert Smith Free­hills to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions.

While there are some 400 staff at the group’s head of­fice, in­dus­try in­sid­ers and for­mer staff say that Kelvin is still at the cen­tre of de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

He has ad­mit­ted as much: “I can be dif­fi­cult. I am par­tic­u­lar and I can be hard work when I need to be. But I think that’s re­spected.”

Kelvin, who will turn 63 next week, has fash­ion in his bones. His

fa­ther Alf owned a small blouse fac­tory in Tot­ten­ham, he be­gan work­ing along­side his mum Trudie in the fam­ily tai­lor’s shop be­fore he was 10 years old.

Kelvin be­gan his busi­ness life by sup­ply­ing wom­enswear to high street re­tail­ers in early 1970s via his Per­sonal Con­tact group be­fore see­ing an op­por­tu­nity to spe­cialise in men’s shirts. He said he in­vented his Gats­byesque al­ter ego Ted Baker as a way to sep­a­rate him­self from the brand – just in case it went bust.

He has kept a re­mark­ably low pro­file in the world of fash­ion re­tail, where it’s not un­com­mon for bosses to be reg­u­lar fix­tures of di­ary columns or even front pages. That’s de­spite the fact that first wife Ge­or­gia Slowe, with whom he had two sons who are now in their 20s, was an ac­tor in Emmerdale.

He mar­ried sec­ond wife Clare, with whom he has a daugh­ter, in 2012. Kelvin has spo­ken out against his ha­tred of be­ing seen to be flash and tries not to have his full face pho­tographed.

The brand blos­somed dur­ing the 1990s era of lad cul­ture, when it sold “vomit proof” suits with spe­cial pock­ets to carry con­doms. The com­pany, which listed on the stock mar­ket in 1997, now has 544 stores world­wide and an­nual sales of £590m.

Kelvin prefers to pro­mote from within, so many se­nior staff have spent more than 20 years at the com­pany. He talks about staff as like fam­ily, and has been known to help pay for ed­u­ca­tion or med­i­cal treat­ments. But sev­eral se­nior peo­ple have re­cently quit, in­clud­ing re­tail di­rec­tor Chris Browne and wom­enswear boss Catherine Scorey.

One friend says the at­mos­phere has changed amid tougher times on the high street. “He’s been al­lowed to what­ever he wants to do. Per­haps he’s lost a bit of his moral com­pass in re­cent years and doesn’t re­alise not ev­ery­body wants to be hugged by their boss.”

‘I can be dif­fi­cult. I am par­tic­u­lar and I can be hard work. But I think that’s re­spected’ Ray Kelvin Ted Baker founder

MAIN PHO­TO­GRAPH: ASTRID STAWIARZ/GETTY

Ray Kelvin, who does not like his full face be­ing pho­tographed, used to have a ‘hug zone’ out­side his of­fice

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