Shaper: Daniel Rubin

Show aired on 31st December 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Cannonball Adley and Nancy Wilson with Happy Talk. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM and I am Elliot Moss. Thank you very much for joining me. We are getting close to the end of 2016 and I have got a cracker for you here on Jazz Shapers. Just in case you didn’t know, Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and alongside them we bring their equivalents in the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. I am very pleased to say my Business Shaper today is Daniel Rubin; he is the founder and executive chairman of the Dune Group and they sell gorgeous shoes so my wife and many of her friends tell me. You will be hearing lots from him very shortly. In addition to hearing from Daniel, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we have got some brilliant music here in the back end of December and they are from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul just in case you were worrying, Esperanza Spalding is coming up, Oscar Peterson as well and this from Jason Moran.

That was Jason Moran with Honeysuckle Rose. Here on New Year’s Eve my Business Shaper here on Jazz Shapers is Daniel Rubin and he is the founder and executive chairman of the Dune Group as I said and just in case you don’t know, though you are unlikely not to know, they sell really nice shoes, not just in this country but apparently through their website in over a hundred and thirty countries and in over seventy currencies. Daniel, I don’t know why you don’t look exhausted but you don’t because you should be running a business with over a hundred and fifty million turnover, over two thousand employees but here you are looking sprightly. How are you?

Daniel Rubin
I am very well indeed Elliot and it is a great pleasure to be on your programme.

Elliot Moss
Good, thank you. Now, you are from a family of shoemakers though the advice I hear was to not become a shoemaker or someone associated with the shoe business. Just tell me how you eventually got roped into the family business back in, well its almost forty years ago actually, 1976.

Daniel Rubin
It is, no it’s a long time ago. I mean I am the fourth generation of, of shoemakers. My great grandfather was a cobbler back in the mid nineteenth century in Lithuania; then it was Russia and his son wasn’t happy you know, it was the time of the pogroms in Russia, there was a lot of persecution and so he decided to get out. So he got on a boat, left his family and headed towards New York to meet his brother, Maurish. He got off the boat then he discovered that in fact he had been swindled, he was in London and not in New York so he was a bit unhappy and he arrived in London with just one German mark in his pocket and he didn’t really know what to do but he did have the contact number of a friend so he went to visit that friend and he was a shoemaker, also a shoemaker and from there you know, he started off he opened a small workshop in Whitechapel. Then he moved to a bigger factory and then he got married and his three sons of which one was my father, Louis, he also became a shoe manufacturer and so there is a sort of a deep seated history of shoemaking and shoes in my family.

Elliot Moss
Just going back to that, your grandfather’s story and arriving here with one German mark in his pocket. You know we are in the middle of a world which is seeing movements of people that we haven’t seen for many generations. Your grandfather in a way was doing something similar which was going away from a place which wasn’t very nice, which wasn’t very affable to say it lightly into a place which had great opportunity. What bravery do you think, if you put yourself in his shoes, what kind of fearlessness would that have taken and do you think that is in your DNA in terms of ‘well what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ because that’s a big thing to do isn’t it?

Daniel Rubin
It is a big thing and you are right when you think about it, you know just sort of going… I think obviously he was going to visit his brother so that was easier but yeah, suddenly arriving in a foreign place, completely different culture, different challenges, people suspicious of foreigners. You know it was like that then. Yeah it was a challenge and I guess you sort of take it for granted but he must have had a tough time. He was quite a sort of umm, slightly insensitive, very determined sort of guy and I think actually he was very lucky. He married a woman who was very tough, really tough. I didn’t meet you know, I didn’t spend long with them because unfortunately he died sort of when I was quite young but certainly I remember that his wife was a really tough nut and she drove him on and I think she was very much the sort of wore the trousers, wore the shoes in the family so yeah, she was a tough lady. But yeah an amazing achievement. You know, set up a factory and you know it was a good time, gradually after the War in particular there was a strong demand for shoes. In particular from the UK and with his brothers in the factory you know, the business grew. They sold lots of shoes and you know, at that time amazingly you know, the UK and in particular, London was a pretty major centre of footwear production. Obviously there aren’t any left now so yeah they were in an interesting business and a growing business.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, Daniel Rubin, he is from tough stock as you have been hearing and let’s find out how that has affected him in his journey as he has grown the Dune business. Time for some music and this is Esperanza Spalding with I Know You Know.

Esperanza Spalding with the lovely I Know You Know. Daniel Rubin is my Business Shaper today and as you have been hearing I hope; he is founder and executive chairman I should mention of the Dune Group; fourth generation member of a family, a tough family who it started with his grandfather coming across just at the end of the nineteenth century. You mentioned that there was a demand for shoes. You mentioned that this country was a pretty strong manufacturing base, even a power house way back. Your involvement in the business. They told you ‘don’t go into the business Daniel’, you’re going to be an accountant or you are going to do something like, I think you were saying to me just before, Uncle Harvey. You went off and became an accountant and then you did move into the family business. Do you remember why you shifted in there? Was there a need from the family or was it that you decided?

Daniel Rubin
Yes I was umm, I mean I failed O level maths so I struggled to become a chartered accountant. I did finally make it and I joined… those were the days when the big firms were desperate for people – completely different from now. So I got a Degree at the University of Kent believe it or not, in accounting and then I joined Deloitte’s. Then it was Touche, Ross, Bailey and Smart but now it is part of Deloitte’s and I stayed there. I enjoyed it. It was very varied. We did lots of different business audits, stockbrokers and I was there for about five years and then decided to move on. I joined a business that was run by a guy that was a bit crooked who was famous for having the first E-type Jaguar but he had bought a business, a demolition business that was knocking down lots of buildings in the City and I joined him because he had very ambitious plans to grow that. It didn’t work out. In the end he was pushed out of the business and they made me managing director of a demolition company and I thought ‘is this the right job for a nice Jewish boy?’ and at the time my father was doing well. It was the time of Bieber and he was making tonnes of Bieber boots and doing exceptionally well and I thought ‘do I want to be a demolition guy’ and my father needed some help, his health wasn’t very good so in 1976 I decided to do what he had told me not to do, to become a shoe manufacturer. So I sort of gave up demolition and became a shoe manufacturer and spent the next ten years of going backwards and forwards initially to Stoke Newington and then Dalston making shoes. Initially with my father but unfortunately he died soon after I joined the business and we sold that business but I bought in to, amazingly, maybe with hindsight rather stupidly, in to another manufacturing business where I remained for ten years making ladies fashion shoes which was incredibly difficult and got more and more difficult as the years went by because at that stage production was moving to the Far East.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me, we are going to hold the story right there because chapter three is going to see the Dune brand arrive here with Daniel Rubin, my Business Shaper. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom I hope from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, the last one of 2016 just in case you hadn’t noticed, it is New Years’ Eve almost. We will be back in 2017 and with lots more fantastic people who are shaping the world of business. If you have missed any of 2016 or before then Cityam.com is a destination and in 2017 we will be there as well. And obviously we will be here on Jazz FM. Daniel Rubin is my Business Shaper today and he is the founder and executive chairman of the Dune Group. Daniel we have been talking about you transitioning from being the demolition man to someone who is then back in the shoe business and you weren’t really the demolition man for very long. Tell me about where the notion of the Dune brand came from because right now Dune London and I think you rebranded in 2014 but the Dune brand has real resonance when you talk to people who buy shoes and most of us have to buy shoes and women who buy shoes and other things as well. They know you. You have very high brand awareness amongst a huge group of people not just in this country but around the world. Before it was that and when it wasn’t that and when it was just a thought, where did the thought come from to create this thing that you have now got?

Daniel Rubin
I was in manufacturing for ten years until 1986 and it was very clear that manufacturing was just disappearing in the UK, footwear manufacture was all going to the Far East. China was becoming the major source of footwear because they had you know, it’s low technology business, they have low labour costs so it was the natural place to go so I sold my business, manufacturing business and set up an import business and so for the next, from 1986 for the next ten to fifteen years, I was importing shoes and I was importing shoes really for the multiple retailers, for Next, for Marks and Spencer, for Debenhams, people like that and what I was doing was I was designing shoes, I was flying out to the Far East, coming back, going up the M1 to visit Next and selling them shoes, all unbranded, all had their name in and this was getting more and more difficult and I suddenly thought you know I’ve got nothing really. I don’t have a brand here. All I am doing is a lot of work. I am making a good return but you know, I don’t have any brand and so I was sort of… this food for thought, this train of thought continued and I suddenly sort of thought ‘I need something, I need more identity, I need to build a brand’ because then I will have much more sort of value in terms of the hard work I am putting in. So in 1992 we set up Dune. It was our first foray into retail. We were running it parallel with the import business. It was a very small part of our business but it was you know, the more I did it, the more exciting it became because you know all of a sudden you had a brand, you were trying to build that brand, you were giving it personality, you were trying to sell it widely and so gradually over the years the import company became less and less important and all my sort of passion and hard work was devoted on building Dune into a meaningful brand.

Elliot Moss
And we are here now, twenty or so – I am trying to do the maths, I am rubbish at maths and actually you are not so good at maths even though you are an accountant so we are both in trouble – over twenty years later you’ve got something really big and special. What was the first tipping point when you went ‘you know what, this idea to create value is working?’ Was there a first moment when you went ‘this is going to work’?

Daniel Rubin
To be honest, no. You know I think the thing about entrepreneurs they are all a little bit insecure and it was tough in the beginning. We opened a few shops and then we had a bit of a rest and then we opened some more shops. Gradually I suppose we did, I did sort of feel that yeah this was going to be bigger than the import business but it was, there wasn’t any sort of big moment. It was a sort of gradual thing and I don’t know, I think the thing I find, maybe because I am sort of always not expecting the worst but I always sort of was surprised at how well the stores were going and do you know, it was tough, you know, it was tough financially getting the funds. Opening stores is a very expensive business. Shoe stores hold a lot of stock so there is a big commitment on capital and I didn’t have a lot of that so fortunately I had built some up in the import business but you know there were things like personal guarantees, a lot of commitments to building stores so you know you didn’t really have the luxury to step back and say ‘oh this is great, you know this is all going the right direction’ it was really a sort of an organic thing and then suddenly you do realise, you step back ‘yeah I’ve got about twenty stores and they are trading pretty well and I am making a bit of money’ and then you feel a lot better about things and then I think you start to push on and say ‘yeah where can we take this?’ So that was really the story I guess about how I started Dune.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more on how not only did Daniel start Dune but what happened next and there is phenomenal success that followed. Time for some more music, this is C Jam Blues from the Oscar Peterson Trio.

That Oscar Peterson Trio with C Jam Blues. Daniel Rubin has been talking to me about no particular epiphany that happened, there was no moment as such but the kind of the hard graft of raising the money, opening the stores and then suddenly going ‘hold on well I’ve got twenty of them, maybe I can do this’. You’ve got how many stores now around the world?

Daniel Rubin
Gosh I think we have got about three hundred stores, three hundred point of sales because we have quite a lot of concessions, stores in stores but there are around three hundred in thirty countries around the world.

Elliot Moss
You’ve got over two thousand people that work for you. A lot of moving pieces. How do your senior management team describe your role in the business now Daniel?

Daniel Rubin
Well that’s an interesting one. I think you should ask them. I like to feel I am inclusive. I think the key thing is you know, you’ve got to get really good people and give them responsibility and let them get on with it. I have in the past maybe meddled a little bit too much and I think one of the good things about getting older you sort of realise that actually a lot of people can do a lot of things a lot better than you so it is much better to step back. So my involvement with the business now is much more strategic. I also do get really involved in the product. Amazing for a chartered accountant but I do spend a lot of time looking a women’s feet, looking in shop windows, you know taking out my iPhone to photograph shoes so I do have a passion for the product and maybe that is in my DNA that was built up over you know, four generations but I do love the product. It is a really tactile, interesting product and so, to be honest, if you get the range wrong in retailing, you’ve got no chance, you are dead in the water so really getting the product range right is absolutely crucial. So I spend quite a lot of my time in range reviews, looking at product and really getting excited by that.

Elliot Moss
Just as an adjunct to the passion for the product which I hear many people talk about and actually that sustains them because it is either in their DNA or they have found it and they love it. The other thing, just going back to your grandfather and that strain of toughness which you talked about. You strike me as quite a relaxed person. Obviously I see people in here and they can behave really nicely and I am sure they are completely different when they are at home or in their office or wherever they are travelling but would people describe you as tenacious and tough? Have you had to be resilient along the way or has it not been like that?

Daniel Rubin
I think I have had to be resilient but I sort of take pressure pretty well. I don’t get that excited. I am not one to sort of shout and swear a great deal, I tend to be a little bit understated in that department. Not to say I am not critical. I am critical and self-critical but I think it is so important these days for your team to really enjoy their work, to look forward to coming to work, to have a friendly environment so I really do put quite a lot of time into just sort of trying to develop that sort of feeling of team spirit and enjoyment at work. Whether they do or not I am not sure but we certainly do, as a business, try and encourage that.

Elliot Moss
We will reveal the poll later of the two hundred people I spoke to. I didn’t really its okay. Final chat with Daniel plus we will be playing a track from The Meters, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

That was The Meters, the funky Meters and Just Kiss My Baby. Daniel Rubin is here just for a few more minutes of the last programme for Jazz Shapers in 2016 and what a great way to go out Daniel. Going forward, the web has been upon us for a while, the digital environment has changed the nature of what your stores are used for inevitably as it has for all of us, you know, we go and pick things up now and we go and complain, we don’t necessarily buy over there. What’s the vision for you for the next few years and have you got family that is going to come in and make a fifth generation in the Dune business?

Daniel Rubin
Well to answer that question first, no I haven’t. My son is a film producer and he is doing very nicely and he is passionate about film. My daughter is in fashion but she is a mother and she designs dresses. She went to Central St Martins so… but neither of them have really shown any great desire to come in to the shoe business so no there is no family which I have mixed feelings about. I think you know sometimes it can be really tough working with family so on balance I don’t think I am too upset by that. Vision for the future, there is a real opportunity of International growth. We are opening stores all over the place, Saudi Arabia I was there last week. India we are opening several more stores so yeah there is a real opportunity to do that. I mean it is not easy and you know we are finding that most markets are very challenging at the moment but I do think that Dune, we have been very successful at tailoring our product for local markets yet still remaining retaining the essence and personality of the brand and I think that is a really important sort of ingredient so yeah, we are really going to push for International expansion for a key element of growth.

Elliot Moss
Now you mention that wasn’t easy and obviously in the context of a significantly changed political landscape not just here but probably in Europe and definitely in America now and who knows what is going to happen next. How do you hold the line? How does a business, a significant International business ensure that it sticks to a strategy or rather flexes and continues to grow because you’ve got more things that could go wrong around you that you can’t control?

Daniel Rubin
Yeah I think you need to be true to the brand and you know it is all about you know, we keep on hearing from retailers it is about the customer. It is about the customer you know and it is really making the brand resonate in those countries you are in and sticking to making sure that you have a great range. I think you know, in the end as I have said before, the product is absolutely key. There are sort of all sorts of geo-political challenges and you know, Russia has been really tough over the last few years so we need to take an account of that but I think we can’t be too driven by that. In the end our business is all about, number one, finding the right partner because a lot of our business is with partners, International partners. We have got great partners in the Middle East, great partners in India and in other parts of the world, in South Africa and where else we trade so I think it is about finding the right partner who really believes in the brand and working together to really crack that market. To understand the consumer, to understand the right distribution channels. I think that is the most important thing. It doesn’t really matter to some extent what is happening politically. Of course if a country is going through big changes then it may be more difficult you know, for example in Saudi right now they’ve cut… the Government have cut salaries by 25% so you know, that market is going to be tougher but I don’t think that is a reason for us not to go in that market. I think we have just got to go in and offer a great product and a great price and with a really sort of compelling brand statement and the customers come.

Elliot Moss
You make it sound so simple.

Daniel Rubin
I wish it was.

Elliot Moss
I wish it was too. Listen, fantastic talking to you Daniel. We have run out of time but just before I let you go and enjoy the rest of 2016 and 2017 that follows, what is your song choice today and why have you chosen it?

Daniel Rubin
Well I am a real fan of Gregory Porter. I think he has got really unique voice, a much over-used word and the song I am going to choose is Holding On.

Elliot Moss
Thank you very much.

That was Gregory Porter with Hold On, the song choice of my Business Shaper today Daniel Rubin. Super calm, full of common sense and he didn’t make it sound easy because it isn’t easy but he sort of gave us the impression that he really knew how to run that business and indeed the facts would bear that out. Really great stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, the other side of the New Year. That will be 2017. Yes I can’t believe it either. Thank you very much for listening in 2016, I hope you have enjoyed all the programmes. I look forward to joining you again next year but in the meantime stay with us here on Jazz FM for the rest of New Year’s Eve. Have a great one.

Daniel Rubin

Daniel Rubin’s grandfather arrived in London from Lithuania in 1895. He subsequently opened a shoe workshop in Whitechapel, which he ran with his three sons, where they made ladies footwear. Daniel, who was practising as an accountant, joined his father’s footwear business in 1976. By the 1980s, he was one of the leading designers and importers of footwear in the UK, bringing in 10 million pairs of shoes a year and selling them on to Next, M&S and Debenhams. In 1992 Daniel founded leading footwear brand, Dune.

Follow Dune on Twitter @Dune_London.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“I am the fourth generation of shoemakers. My great grandfather was a cobbler back in the mid nineteenth century in Lithuania.”

“I mean I failed O-level maths so I struggled to become a chartered accountant. I did finally make it…”

“My father needed some help, his health wasn’t very good, so in 1976 I decided to do what he had told me not to do, to become a shoe manufacturer.”

“I suddenly thought, you know I’ve got nothing really. I don’t have a brand here. All I am doing is a lot of work.”

“I think the thing about entrepreneurs is they are all a little bit insecure…”

“I have in the past maybe meddled a little bit too much and I think one of the good things about getting older you sort of realise that actually a lot of people can do a lot of things a lot better than you.”

“…if you get the range wrong in retailing, you’ve got no chance, you are dead in the water.”

“Vision for the future? To make Dune a global brand…I think there is a real opportunity for international growth.”