Ray Kelvin: A passion for fashion – but not for the spotlight

He has built up his global £1bn Ted Baker brand without becoming a household name. As he tells Simon Neville, that's just the way he likes it

He is probably the most famous retailer you've never heard of, despite building up one of the UK's best-known fashion brands from scratch to a £1bn behemoth, but Ray Kelvin likes it that way.

And while other boardrooms may be stuffed full of suits, spreadsheets and pie charts, Mr Kelvin runs his Ted Baker empire very differently.

Only a handful of staff have left for competitors in its 26-year history; everyone gets a bear hug from Mr Kelvin, from the receptionists to institutional investors; and Ted Baker buses are laid on every evening to take staff to the nearest Tube stations.

He also knows his 400 workers intimately, and uses straightforward language that appears almost at odds with other listed companies.

On the business and its future he makes it simple: "We want to do what we do and do it better. We've got online, which is good; we've got to keep making better clothes; and we've got to look at what countries we can expand into.

"We've only got one store in Japan, so that's an opportunity. We've got three shops in China; two in Turkey – that's a growth market."

And with this laid-back, caring atmosphere, which might be better placed on a 1960s hippy commune rather than a warehouse in north London, he has seen the company boost profits by around 13 per cent almost continuously since its 1997 stock market debut.

Next week its full-year results are expected to follow that trend, after reporting a strong Christmas in its 300 stores across the world.

So it probably comes as no surprise that in London last night he was honoured at the Oracle Retail Week Awards for outstanding contribution to retail, at the industry's equivalent of the Oscars.

Last year's winner, Sir Philip Green, received his award from the showbiz mogul Simon Cowell in a glitzy affair, but last night's winner could not be more different.

He says: "I was surprised insomuch as I always feel like I'm off the radar. I don't go to these events, so I thought if you don't go to these events and don't show your face, which I never do, you don't get these things.

"I'm not a lover of the attention and I don't think these things are particularly cool. I'd never rebuff it. But it's not what I came to business for."

So keen is he to avoid publicity and take away the intrigue of Ted Baker that he's reluctant to be photographed because of his "ugly" face – in his words.

And unlike last year's winner, who is regularly snapped stepping out with Kate Moss and other celebrities, Mr Kelvin feels it's not for him.

"I don't think being famous in that way is particularly cool. My kids wouldn't like it and don't lead that type of lifestyle. Being wealthy and showy is not what I do.

"I don't have a yacht, and never will have one, and I don't own a plane. I just don't come from that type of background of being showy, and I don't like it."

Growing up, the 58-year-old knew he would have a career in fashion retail, from the days when he started work in the family shop in north London, aged nine. His father also had a blouse factory in Tottenham, north London, where Mr Kelvin could watch the clothes going from factory to shop floor.

But beyond being a retailer and trying to grow up sounding middle class – his mother made him call his suburb of Cockfosters "Co-fosters" to sound "more posh" – there were few aspirations.

He says: "When I started the business I just hoped I'd make it past the post making a profit. I never thought for one minute it would be a global brand in 33 countries, with wholesale presence in God knows how many more."

The company first opened its doors in Glasgow in 1988 – the same year it was named European city of culture.

Mr Kelvin admits that in the early days he had to be assertive to get what he needed, but now the business has grown to the size it is today, he no longer needs any hint of aggression.

"A lot of people in retail are quite aggressive and ugly and I don't think there's any need for it. I don't shout and scream. I'm not here shouting at landlords or suppliers, because people work better when they're happy."

Whether his laid-back approach will catch on elsewhere along the high street remains to be seen, but it certainly works for Ted, Ray and his brood of worldwide customers.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?