Edwina Dunn: Clubcard founder’s points to success

Edwina Dunn: Clubcard founder’s points to success

30 August 2013

Tesco Clubcard creators Edwina Dunn, 55, and Clive Humby, 58, founded their data analysis consultancy Dunnhumby in 1989. The husband-and-wife team began working with Tesco in 1995, pioneering the Clubcard scheme. In 2011, the couple sold their final 10 per cent stake in the business to Tesco for £48m.

Dunn attended Surbiton High School in Surrey and read geography at Bournemouth University. She spent nine years working for software consultancy CACI, where she met her husband, before setting up Dunnhumby.


In May, the couple invested over £1m in theatre analytics company Purple Seven. Their aim is to help theatres and venues better understand their customer base.

The Humbys live in west London, and have a daughter Rowena, 22, and son Max, 19.


Did you think you would get to where you are?

I never did. I never had any vision. I was horribly lazy all the way through school and university. It was only when I got to work at 22 that a light went on. Success was a pleasure and a surprise, but I am determined and hard-working. Running a business is a marathon not a sprint. If you are willing to put in the work and the years, good things come out of it. Quite often people give up too easily.


When you had made your first £1m did you want to slow down?

Our first million pound profit would have been in 1998, before our involvement with Tesco, when our goal was to reach £10m turnover. We had three business plans and that was the first. We did not want to slow down, because we were excited. There was so much more to do and we could see how to make it happen.


What has been your career strategy?

I did not really have a strategy. A very defining thing for me was that I met my partner at my first job, and we continued working together. I was 22 and he was 25. I think meeting your opposite who is good at all the things that you are not good at gives you great confidence.

We went as far as we could in CACI and then Clive became unhappy because the firm would not reinvest its profits, so we could not innovate. At that point he handed in his resignation. Because we were married and they thought Clive was going to set up a competitive agency, they fired me.

The situation was quite desperate. We had moved the year before and taken out a huge mortgage when we thought we were in heaven with decent salaries and bonuses. When we left we realised we could innovate and set up a profitable agency. So we created Dunnhumby. I would say our “strategy” was born out of need.


What is the secret of your success?

I picked a great partner. Clive is bright and creative and I am very businesslike. Clive’s problem-solving and creative side allow me to get on with what I do best, being a negotiator and putting together a good team.

We started our company in our small back bedroom. We had an angel investor, Geoff Squire, who put in £250,000 and got a very good return. He trusted us and he was brilliant, which meant so much to us. He used to run the software company Oracle.


What is your basic business philosophy?

Understand your customer and their needs. Other companies use data superficially. They use easy tools to do that – not the hard way, which is exploring data, analysing it and then using it to change the way you do business. That is hard work.


What are you working on now?

We are taking an active role in Purple Seven, which holds 19m customer records for UK theatres. We are going to transform the tools and create some powerful insights. A loyalty programme may be one of the outcomes. We are both investors and participating directors of the company, in which we have a controlling stake.


Do you want to carry on till you drop?

I don’t want to carry on forever but if I were to stop completely I would be bored. Perhaps retirement for me would be working one or two days a week. When I’m bored I take on other projects, such as writing a book.


What is your commitment to charity?

We are strong supporters of the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge and the Science Museum, which gives us great pleasure. They are the nicest and most inspiring people you will ever meet. Scientists and mathematicians are quiet and so often thoughtful. They don’t talk as much as other people, but when they do they are well worth listening to.


Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?

I suppose I’m rather predictable. I bought an Aston Martin a year ago and I love it. My husband’s toy is a Riva, our chic, fast motorboat. But Clive really loves yachts. We like sailing in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. We are keen theatregoers, and often end up buying the best seats because we go at the last minute.


Do you believe in leaving everything to one’s children?

Right now I would not leave them everything, because wealth can be a burden at their age. It would be the wrong thing to do when they are deciding who they are and what they want to be. I think there is no gift greater than letting someone find their own path.


What is the most you have ever paid for a bottle of fine wine or champagne?

I’m really stingy on small things. I would not pay more than £30 for a bottle of wine wholesale. We have a fantastic cellar at home where we can store them. At a restaurant I would not get close to £100 for a bottle wine because I think it is a waste of money, and I cannot taste the difference. I prefer the company and the fun of dining out much more.


Your most prudent investment?

I would say a good firm of lawyers. This is one thing you cannot economise on when you are setting up a business. The advice you get and the contracts you create are fundamental. We have used the same lawyers for 15 years at Greenberg Traurig Maher and they have served us well.