Men's Wearhouse fires back at ousted founder

Men?s Wearhouse said George Zimmer, who owns just Men’s Wearhouse said George Zimmer, who owns just 3 1/2 percent of the company's stock, pushed for “significant changes that would enable him to regain control.” (May 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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Men's Wearhouse escalated a public battle with its founder and former pitchman George Zimmer Tuesday, trying to explain why it fired the man who still represents the clothier in many shoppers' minds.

The company said its board parted ways with Zimmer because he had difficulty "accepting the fact that Men's Wearhouse is a public company with an independent board of directors and that he has not been the chief executive for two years." One bone of contention: he wanted to sell the company to an investment firm.

On paper, Zimmer's ability to take back control of the company he founded seems limited. But to his fans, he's already winning. Customers are turning to the company's Facebook and other social media outlets to express their outrage. Many were threatening to boycott the chain.

Ultimately, the shoppers themselves could determine what happens next. Zimmer, 64, who founded the company in 1973, has been one of advertising's most recognizable pitchmen, immediately recognizable for his slogan: "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."

Since Men's Wearhouse's terse announcement last Wednesday of Zimmer's firing as executive chairman, it had remained tight-lipped about the reasons.

But Wednesday, Men's Wearhouse said Zimmer, who owns just 3 1/2 percent of the company's stock, pushed for "significant changes that would enable him to regain control." The chain said Zimmer had refused to support its CEO Doug Ewert and other senior managers unless they gave in to his demands.

The retailer also said Zimmer expected veto power over corporate decisions such as executive compensation, even though it has an independent board committee that sets such policies. Last week, Zimmer said in a written statement that over the past several months he and the board have disagreed about the direction of Men's Wearhouse.

Zimmer declined to comment for this story.

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