Ray Kelvin, founder of British fashion label Ted Baker, is well-known for his tendency to hide from photographers, always posing for photos behind objects that partly obstruct his face.
In the midst of sexual harassment allegations that have dogged the 63-year-old since late last year, Kelvin could only hide behind euphemisms when announcing his resignation as chief executive officer.
“I’ve decided that the right thing to do is to step away from Ted and allow the business to focus on being the outstanding brand it is so it can face 2019 with fresh energy and renewed spirit,” Kelvin said in a statement to WWD. He added, “The past few months have been deeply distressing and I’ll now be taking time privately with my family to consider what my next adventure will be.”
His rather optimistic send-off sounded like it came more from a travel blogger and less from a disgraced CEO who has been accused of instilling a corporate culture of “forced hugging” where everyone from investors to interns were subjected to cuddles at Kelvin’s every whim.
It all began with an open letter from London-based employees that hit the public petition site Organize in December. Employees accused Kelvin of unsolicited hugging along with “ask(ing) young females members of his staff to sit on his knee, cuddle him, or massage their ears.”
According to employees, complaints to higher-ups were not pursued appropriately. “I went to HR with a complaint and was told, ‘That’s just what Ray’s like,’” wrote one of the petition’s authors.
When the news broke, the company pledged a “full investigation” into the matter, telling The Daily Beast in a statement that, “Ray greets many people he meets with a hug, be it a shareholder, investor, supplier, partner, customer or colleague. Hugs have become part of Ted Baker’s culture, but are absolutely not insisted upon.”
A subsequent investigation by the Sunday Times revealed that Kelvin had “climbed on top” of a female employee and groped her thighs while wearing a Halloween mask in the office.
Though he denied all allegations, Kelvin took a leave of absence shortly after they surfaced.
Three months later, the investigation is still ongoing, helmed by law firm Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. Kelvin is now out for good, replaced by Lindsay Page, who has been acting CEO since December, with support from Executive Chairman David Bernstein.
Well, sort of. Kelvin has let it be known that while he may be off adventuring, he will never be too busy for Ted Baker. WWD reported, “As a shareholder in the business, [Kelvin] plans to support Lindsay Page in his leadership and ‘will be available to him and the team wherever I can’ to offer advice.”
Representatives for Ted Baker did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request to clarify what Kelvin’s plans mean. His offer to consult leaves a loophole in his resignation that is as huge as an oversized rose on the many floral-printed Ted Baker shift dresses.
Per Ted Baker’s press release, the former CEO “will not be entitled to any salary or benefits payment in connection with his resignation or in respect of any period after the date of his resignation.”
That said, Kelvin’s offer of help—should it be accepted—might make Page and Bernstein’s difficult transition just a bit easier.
“I think from a creative point of view and brand direction standpoint, it could very well be essential to initially have him [in the background]. They might need him,” Charcy Evers, a fashion and retail trend analyst, told The Daily Beast.
After all, Ted Baker is the 32-year-old baby of Kelvin, who founded the brand in Glasgow, Scotland. In 2014, he told The Sunday Times that he slept on the floor of his shops to get by during his “tough” early days. Sky News reported that Kelvin’s business card read, “The closest man to Ted,” citing his fictional muse.
The fact that the company is called Ted Baker and not Ray Kelvin may carry it through this current controversy. “The fictitious name works to the brand’s advantage,” Evers said. “It’s not Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company. There’s not that direct correlation between the brand and the person who has done the wrongdoing.”
That is why execs would be wise to leave any consulting calls from Kelvin unanswered. If the company is going to truly part ways with Kelvin, then they must fully disassociate from the reported harasser.
After all, what would it mean for Kelvin to “be available” to his former team? The statement leaves enough wiggle room for the forced hugger to return to the office he once ran loose in, potentially undoing any progress the investigation promised the public.