George Zimmer hits back at Men's Wearhouse

Men's Wearhouse abruptly fired executive chairman George Zimmer last week. Above, Zimmer, second from left, in 1999. (Ben Margot / Associated Press / June 26, 2013)

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The latest volley in the spat between Men’s Wearhouse and George Zimmer, the executive chairman it abruptly fired last week: an open letter from Zimmer accusing the company he founded 40 years ago of trying to “marginalize and then silence” him.

Zimmer alleged that the board of directors, “to justify their actions,” tried to portray him “as an obstinate former CEO, determined to regain absolute control” by urging the company to make moves for his “own personal benefit and ego.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said in the letter, which he released a day after the board posted its own statement on the termination. On Monday, Zimmer sent a resignation letter to the company.

In the days since his sacking, he said “countless employees” have attempted to contact him.

Men’s Wearhouse said Tuesday that Zimmer clashed with current Chief Executive Doug Ewert, whom Zimmer chose after stepping down from the role two years ago.

The retailer also said Zimmer was pushing to privatize the company, advocating a sale to an investment group.

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Zimmer differed, saying that he encouraged the board this year to look into strategic alternatives beyond selling the company’s discount K&G division. But he said he wasn’t dead set on taking the company private, just that he wanted to “be open to at least consider the full range of possibilities.”

The board, he said, rejected the ideas without consulting financial advisors or allowing Zimmer to make a presentation. The directors, fearful of the “short term pressures of Wall Street,” then proceeded to freeze him out of the company, he said.

Zimmer wrote that managers and directors have, over the past two years, “been eroding the principles and values that have made the Men’s Wearhouse so successful for all stakeholders.”

“I am greatly concerned about the future of the company if this culture and these values are lost,” he wrote.

The company, he wrote, has veered toward “financial engineering,” with higher-ups “more concerned with protecting their entrenched views and positions."

Zimmer is probably finding that “relinquishing control is a challenge,” said Charles W.B. Wardell III, chief executive of search firm Witt/Kieffer, of the war of words.

“It’s a tough situation for the owner, the CEO and the board, but also for the senior staff, who may be torn between their mentor and CEO,” Wardell said. “But even more critical, it can be disruptive for the business itself.”

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