George Zimmer rips into retailer's actions

Men's Wearhouse founder and pitchman fights back after firing

Associated Press

FREMONT, Calif. (AP) -- George Zimmer, the founder and former executive chairman of The Men's Wearhouse, seems to wants to have the last word.

Men's Wearhouse dismissed Zimmer a week ago, but the firing of the face of its brand has led to a very public and extended fight.

The retailer did not give a reason at the time, but Zimmer said immediately that it was due to a disagreement over the company's direction. The company spoke out on Tuesday, saying that it did not make the move to hurt Zimmer but that he had difficulty accepting his role at the public company, as he had not been CEO for two years. They also said Zimmer advocated for changes that would enable him to regain control and noted his desire to sell the company to an investment firm.

Zimmer on Wednesday issued a statement that ripped into the retailer's actions.

"To justify their actions, they now have tried to portray me as an obstinate former CEO, determined to regain absolute control by pushing a going private transaction for my own personal benefit and ego," Zimmer said in his open letter. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

A representative for Men's Wearhouse declined to comment.

Zimmer said that over the past two years, particularly in recent months, he believes the board and management have been eroding the principles and values that have made the company successful.

He also countered arguments that he was solely pushing for a sale of the company.

Zimmer said that earlier this year, he encouraged the board to study a broader range of alternatives beyond just selling one division, including the possibility of a private transaction. However, he said that the board, quickly and without the assistance of financial advisers, rejected the idea. He also said the board refused to even discuss the topic or permit him to present any information on the issue, and "instead took steps to marginalize and then silence me".

He also noted that he has not concluded that taking the company private is the answer, but believes the board should be open to at least consider the full range of possibilities that could optimize the future value of the company.

Men's Wearhouse has previously said that its board unanimously agrees that now is not the time to sell the company. The chain said a deal to go private could load the company down with debt.

The extended fight has also engaged some customers, who are expressing their support for Zimmer. He is well known to many for his appearances in ads and his slogan: "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."

Customers are turning to the company's Facebook and other social media outlets to express their outrage. Many were threatening to boycott the chain.

Zimmer also expressed his thanks to the "countless" employees who have attempted to contact him over the past week and told them to "not concern yourselves with my well-being at the risk of your own."

Zimmer, 64, founded the company in 1973 and holds just 3 ½ percent of the company's stock.

Shares of The Men's Wearhouse Inc., based in Houston, fell 28 cents to close at $36.85 and added 22 cents in after-hours trading. Its stock took a dip after the firing but has since recovered to its prior levels.

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