Ted Baker chief executive Ray Kelvin takes an unorthodox approach to retail. Amy Shields talked to him as he prepared to post results
Ted Baker chief executive Ray Kelvin is the “closest man to Ted”, according to his business cards, and he shows no signs of abandoning his alter ego.
The eccentric Kelvin, who famously refuses to have his photograph taken unless his face is obscured, is on the design floor at head office on a Monday morning when many retail chiefs might be closeted in the boardroom – especially those scheduled to report results days later.
The Ugly Brown Building – as head office is known – reflects Kelvin’s unorthodox approach to retailing and management. Guests are greeted by video screen and buttons in the lift emit soundtracks including the theme tune from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The idiosyncrasies are reflective of a passion peculiar to Ted Baker. “The ethos behind the business is about product and design,” explains Kelvin, who applies the mantra, “Would Ted do it that way?” to every decision the company takes.
“Initially I started Ted Baker because I could create a brand by producing a product that was twice the product at half the price,” he says.
That enthusiasm has translated into a business that now spans 17 countries and has cult status, despite shunning advertising and orthodox PR.
It is the challenge of “creating something that is beautiful and expensive and delivered at a more palatable price” that interests Kelvin and attracts customers.
Singer Capital Markets analyst Matthew McEachran says Kelvin is “driven by creating fantastic product with great materials and fabric design and is very detailed and positive. As a consequence, the way the brand projects is positive”.
That is evident in Ted Baker’s store designs. From Ted Baker & Friends in the City, which includes an in-store barber, to Pashion, which has stuffed hares on the ceiling, Kelvin’s love of design shines.
“Every store is a recreation and development of the last one,” he says.
Kelvin’s preferred management style is one of nurturing, made up of different “ingredients”. “Feed them with love and care,” explains Kelvin. “It is the same with suppliers.”
His “gung-ho” attitude to management has evolved since opening his first store in 1988. He remains “motivated by product and creating a team of people” around him, but concedes that it is “frustrating” that he doesn’t know every one of his 2,000 employees’ first names any more.
It takes Kelvin the length of the interview to mention his guiding spirit Ted Baker, a character as real to Kelvin as himself. “Ted allows me not to be me,” he says.
So does that allow Kelvin to be unaccountable? “I am accountable to Ted,” says Kelvin. “If Ted calls me from fly fishing in the flats in Bermuda or skiing the slopes in Gstaad, I tell him: ‘Everything is OK, son, as long as people are perceived and treated well within the business’.”
One former employee says: “The interesting thing about Ray is that he is completely counter-intuitive. If you come to work for him, he will turn all your ideas on their head. He will always take the opposite view. Ted Baker is not a boring, staid, matrix-driven business. He calls it ‘seat of your pants’.”
Kelvin calls it “Ted at 10 paces”. “You can recognise a Ted Baker product without it being brazen,” he explains. “It is about being understa–Ted,” he quips. “And long may it last.”
1988: first store opens in Glasgow
1990: first London store opens
1993: taken private 1994: launches wholesale business in UK
1995: launches Ted Baker Women
1996: begins wholesale trade in US; opens womenswear shops
1997: first franchise in Europe opens; floats on the London Stock Exchange
1998: opens in US
1999: online store goes live
2007: opens stores in Taiwan, Middle East, Malaysia, Australia
2008: opens Ted Baker & Friends in the City and Pashion at Westfield London