Can a CEO be fired for being obnoxious?
That's just one of the questions being asked regarding Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) CEO Mike Jeffries after a Change.org petition demanded Jeffries, "stop telling teens they aren't beautiful; make clothes for teens of all sizes!"
The petition picked up steam after BusinessInsider.com and others ran stories pointing out that Abercrombie doesn't stock XL or XXL women's clothing, allegedly because they don't want overweight women wearing their brand.
Another sensationalist media attack? Not really. Jeffries himself addressed his marketing strategy in a 2006 interview with Salon. Said Jeffries:
Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.
It's a staggeringly stupid thing for Jeffries to have said but it's not as though A&F's strategy isn't obvious within minutes of entering a store. In the attached piece, Breakout Co-Host Matt Nesto points out that ANF shareholders include fund juggernauts like Fidelity Investments which owns ANF shares in more than a dozen different funds.
"Abercrombie has been run by Mike Jeffries for 20 years and he's been running his mouth for 20 years." There's been no shortage of controversy during Jeffries' tenure. A&F has been criticized for selling T-Shirts with slogans with "shock value" marketed to the aforementioned "cool kid" customers. The items, including a thong for schoolgirls, have been pulled from the shelves but Jeffries remains.
It would be ironic if Jeffries was to survive selling apparel with things like "Gentlemen Prefer Tig Ol' Bitties," but was to be taken down as the result of an online petition. The CEO's performance should have been more than enough to raise the ire of Wall and Main Street long ago.
Nesto correctly points out that Abecrombie is expected to post record revenues, but shareholders care more about the bottom line than they do about the top. Since Jeffries' infamous 2006 sitdown with Salon, ANF shares have fallen more than 17% compared to a 28% rise for the S&P500.
Taking out Jeffries for offensive comments he made more than 7 years ago would be akin to putting Al Capone in prison for tax evasion. The man's body of work has earned his dismissal, the details of exactly why Jeffries gets dismissed are almost irrelevant.