To return or not return: Is it ever good for founders to get back at the helm?

Peter Williams, the founder of preppy fashion brand Jack Wills, is returning to his role of chief executive following the departure of Wendy Becker. 

His decision, after what he described as a two-year break, is not the first time an entrepreneur has decided to “come back home”.

But, like going back to an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, is it always a good idea? Or is it hard to rekindle the spirit and passion of the past? Here we look at three entrepreneurs who returned and how they fared.

1) Steve Jobs – Apple

Steve Jobs created Apple Computer in 1976 with friend Steve Wozniak. The first personal computer to generate colour graphics – Apple II, is launched in 1977. It went public in 1980 and by 1982 had revenues of $1bn.

In 1983 John Sculley joined Apple from Pepsico to be the new CEO. Jobs tempted him with the famous line: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water to children or do you want a chance to change the world?”

However, Jobs either resigned or was fired (depending on who you believe) two years later following a clash with Sculley. “Back then he was uncontrollable. He got ideas in his head and the hell with what anybody else wanted to do,” an early Apple board member told Time magazine referring to Jobs.

He formed a new computer company called Next. And in 1993 Apple posted a loss and Sculley resigned.

The still struggling Apple bought Next in 1996 and Jobs was appointed as adviser. He became interim CEO in 1997 and the group returned to profit. There after followed a decade of remarkable innovations such as the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and the iPad. He died in 2011.

Verdict: Successful return.

2) Michael Dell – Dell

Dell founded computer firm Dell in 1984 when he was only 19. Within seven years it was the largest computer systems provider in the world. 

He moved from being CEO to chairman in 2004 to concentrate more on strategy. The new boss was Kevin Rollins.

The company struggled and Dell decided to once again pick up the CEO reigns in 2007. However, he was unable to repeat his earlier success and its PC market share declined as consumers turned to tablets and smartphones instead.

In 2010 the company was fined $100m and Dell $4m by the Securities and Exchange Commission allegedly engaging in accounting fraud.

Verdict: Unsuccessful return.

3) Howard Schultz – Starbucks

Okay – not really the founder but without doubt the main driver of Starbucks’ global growth. He joined the company in 1971 as director of retail operations and marketing.

It growed steadily in the US and floated in 1992. It opened its first overseas store in Japan in 1996. In 2000, with 2,500 stores, Schultz became chairman. In 2008 he returned as CEO given the firm’s sales slide.

He retrained baristas, upgraded coffee machines, closed under-performing stores and improved customer service.

Despite the recession sales and share price improve. Schultz continued to innovate, looking at luxury stores selling rare coffee, express stores in major cities and mobile trucks in college campuses.

Verdict: Successful return.

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