Hobbs gets the ladies on board without quotas

 
Kasmira Jefford
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NICKY Dulieu, the boss of fashion retailer Hobbs, has managed to recruit a nearly all-female board since taking up the helm in 2008 but insists that imposing quotas is not the way to increase the number of women in the boardroom.

Asked whether she was in favour of quotas, Dulieu told City A.M: “I genuinely believe that would be a negative thing for women because we can get there on our own merit. It shouldn’t have to be through quotas.”

Since taking over as chief executive in 2008, Dulieu, has hired an army of female directors to the Hobbs board, with chairman Iain MacRitchie now the only male director.

“We were focused on hiring the right people, with the best skill set, team fit and passion for the brand. In our case, these happened to be mostly women,” Dulieu said.

Helen Williamson, who joined last month from Ted Baker to be director of buying & merchandising, is the latest in a string of new hires this year that has bolstered the team as it prepares to step up its expansion overseas.

The retailer, owned by private equity group 3i, hired accountants PwC in June to advise it on growth plans and has identified Australia, Germany and the US as its leading markets.

According to Dulieu “there is a huge pent up demand” for the quintessential British brand whose main market is made up of professional women aged 25 to 55. The firm plans to launch local language websites in its growth markets next autumn before opening franchises or stores thereafter and is also eyeing a move into China.

Dulieu said Hobbs’ expansion marked the third phase of a transformation plan that saw it first revive its product range – launching its trendier NW3 label in 2008 and its occasionwear range Invitation in March – and then revamp its online offering.

The group, which has over 140 UK branches, saw sales rise nine per cent to £87m in the nine months to October, with web sales up 55 per cent.

It is launching pop-up stores at offices in the run-up to Christmas to make it more convenient for its key customers to shop.

DULIEU DEFIES THE ODDS AT HOBBS
RECENT figures show that the number of women taking up FTSE 100 executive board posts has hardly moved in two years, raising fears that a long period of gradual increases is now ending. Cranfield School of Management reported last week that overall female appointments to boards have risen to a record 17.4 per cent, up from 12.5 per cent in 2010 but the majority of these are non-executive hires.

At an event on Friday to mark the second anniversary of the 30 per cent Club, which campaigns for more women on Britain’s boards, business secretary Vince Cable called on headhunting firms to help identify new talent and get more women on board.

Hobbs, while a private company, is an example of one of the only companies with a near all-female board. When asked why there were not more women on boards, Dulieu said a large part of it stemmed from “a natural reticence and lack of confidence” among women.

But she believes prospects for women in the boardroom are changing rapidly without the need for quotas: “I think there is a great opportunity at the moment for women rise through the ranks much quicker than people like myself did.”

SANDY VERDON
VERDON JOINED HOBBS AS CREATIVE DIRECTOR IN 2008 AFTER EIGHT YEARS AT JAEGER IN THE SAME ROLE.

CLARE DOBBIE
JOINED AS MARKETING DIRECTOR IN MARCH. SHE WAS PREVIOUSLY GLOBAL MARKETING CHIEF AT ONLINE RETAILER ASOS.

LORAINE WOODHOUSE
WOODHOUSE WAS HIRED AS FINANCE DIRECTOR LAST YEAR. SHE HAS PREVIOUSLY WORKED AT CAPITAL SHOPPING CENTRES.

NICKY DULIEU
CHIEF EXECUTIVE