Simon Wolfson and Ray Kelvin: fashion’s one-club men



Simon Wolfson and Ray Kelvin: fashion’s one-club men


Like footballers of yore, the two retail chief executives have battled in midfield for the same company their entire careers





Ray Kelvin of Ted Baker with his face partly obscured by a book






The enigmatic Ray Kelvin founded Ted Baker in 1987 and never left.
Photograph: Eddie Gallacher/Alpha Press

In the world of football, the traditional notion of a one-club man – a player who spends his whole career turning out for the same team – has been going out of fashion for decades.

We may revere Franco Baresi’s peerless defending during his years at AC Milan, the wonder goals of Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier and the, er, sensational dribbles of Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher, but for every one of those examples there are scores of contemporaries who dot around the league taking whichever contract their agents fancy.

It is the same in the City, where the notion that a chief exec might spend a career plying his trade for a single outfit feels rarer still. Yet such people do exist. Just about.

Take this week, for example, when the retail trade is on show. Amid the inevitable questions about how the “beast from the east” has affected trading, there might be some longer-term questions posed to the two shopping stalwarts pencilled in for a run-out.

Simon Wolfson came through the youth team at the family firm – the retailer Next – becoming chief executive at 33. That was back in 2001, so he’s now been there long enough to hire shop assistants who had yet to be born when he first got the gig.

We also have a scheduled update from fashion chain Ted Baker, where founder Ray Kelvin has long passed Wolfson’s landmark – having created his firm in 1987 and floated it on the stock exchange in 1997.

Each, of course, has a very different style of play, yet they also have more in common than their longevity.





Simon Wolfson


Wolfson: the Franco Baresi of retail? Photograph: Andrew Parsons/Rex

What ties them together is that both have managed to steer their companies through the constant challenges in their sector, only suffering the odd problematic season that seem to afflict their rivals more frequently. These achievements come despite each retailer having scores of physical stores in an era when the future of the high street is constantly thought to be under threat from the rise of online shopping.

Wolfson has even been opening new outlets – albeit on increasingly flexible leases – and starting to do eyebrow-arching deals with the space he has, including an agreement with car dealer Rockar that, oddly, gives Manchester punters the chance to shop for cheap suits and a new motor at the same time.

Meanwhile, Kelvin has hinted he might shut a few Ted Baker shops. Then again, he says, he might not.

All of which rather suggests that even this pair are not totally sure what the future of the high street looks like. The uncertainty leaves shareholders wondering if they might, therefore, compare these business one-club men to Le Tissier – from whom football fans used to tolerate 89 minutes of almost total inactivity in exchange for a screamer that saved the day at the death.

For now, though, that is probably too pessimistic an assessment. Wolfson’s record of making the job of running a mid-market retailer look simple next to his perspiring rivals perhaps makes him more of a Baresi. The Italian, when swapping shirts at the end of a tough fixture, nonchalantly used to hand over a jersey smelling solely of his cologne.

Meanwhile Kelvin – who, bizarrely, always avoids having his full visage photographed – suddenly seems to have more in common with Carragher, who is currently suspended from broadcasting duties after spitting on a teenage girl. Both, it seems, feel ashamed to show their face.

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