Would Ted do it that way? Ray Kelvin, corporate culture, the role of boards of directors and the public relations response

More than 2,500 employees have signed a petition alleging that the company has a “culture that leaves harassment unchallenged.”

The company has now brought in the city’s heavyweight law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills, to conduct an independent review of Mr Kelvin which will be presented to a committee of non-executive directors early in the new year.

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Ted Baker said that until the investigation is opened, the company cannot comment on specific allegations.

What can we learn from these latest allegations and how they have been handled from a public relations perspective?

First, corporate cultures are formed over time, but must adapt and change with the corresponding changes occurring in society at large.

Behaviors that were tolerated in society and in the workplace just a few years ago will no longer be.

An obvious point, but Ted Baker’s revelations portray a powerful CEO who has apparently been allowed to run a public company under a culture and behaviors of his own.

Indeed, when staff lodged complaints about Mr. Kelvin’s over-familiarity with the company’s human resources department, he was shrugged off with “it’s just Ray”.

And when the powerful fall, so does the reputation of the empires they built.

This brings me to the roles of the president, board and non-executive directors in managing corporate culture and corporate reputation.

Ted Baker’s board has taken swift action by initiating an independent review since these allegations came to light.

However, I would be surprised if they weren’t already familiar with the kind of culture and behaviors that existed within the company.

Often times, when a powerful entrepreneur is running a business they’ve built, it can be difficult for the board to exercise their will.

Point taken, good corporate governance relies on a strong board of directors that is ready to challenge and change historical behaviors and the type of culture that forms around those behaviors.

This is where the board and its non-leaders can act as arbiter of the good reputation of the company.

Finally, how do companies manage communication around historical subjects that could damage their reputation, especially in light of the #MeToo movement?

It is important to note that the headlines surrounding Ray Kelvin are allegations at this point and are being independently investigated.

The company is right not to comment on specific allegations until the investigation is complete.

However, that does not prevent Ted Baker or other companies from taking positive action on how they will deal with historical allegations of harassment and behavior in the larger context of reviewing their corporate culture.

Ray Kelvin built a successful fashion brand and Ted Baker became a personality as well as a marketing tool.

The company claims that its success is based on always asking the question, “Would Ted do it this way?” “

As the company is now considering how to come out of this crisis, the answer is “probably not”.

Gus Sellitto is Managing Director of Byfield Consultancy

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