Men’s Wearhouse, founder escalate battle

Associated Press file photo by BEN MARGOT -- George Zimmer, second from left, gestures to Andy Dolich prior to a meeting in Oakland, Calif., in 1999.
Associated Press file photo by BEN MARGOT -- George Zimmer, second from left, gestures to Andy Dolich prior to a meeting in Oakland, Calif., in 1999.

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

The company said in a statement that 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 officer for two years.”

One bone of contention was that 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.

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 Wednesday of Zimmer’s firing as executive chairman, it had remained tight-lipped about the reasons.

But Tuesday, Men’s Wearhouse said Zimmer, who owns 3½ 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 CEO Doug Ewert and other senior managers unless they gave in to his demands.

The retailer also said Zimmer expected veto power over certain corporate decisions, such as executive compensation, even though it has an independent board committee that sets such policies.

Analysts had speculated that the rift was caused by a power struggle. Last week, Zimmer said in a written statement that he and the board have disagreed about the direction of Men’s Wearhouse. At the time, Zimmer said the board chose to silence his concerns. On Monday, Zimmer sent a letter to the company saying he was quitting the board.