BUSINESS
06/19/2013 09:51 am ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

George Zimmer, Men's Wearhouse Founder And 'You're Going To Like The Way You Look' Guy, Fired

NEW YORK -- Apparently, Men's Wearhouse Inc. doesn't like the way its founder looks anymore.

In terse release issued Wednesday, Men's Wearhouse said it has fired the face of the company and its executive chairman, George Zimmer, who appeared in many of its TV commercials with the slogan "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."

The timing was even odd _the announcement happened the morning the company's annual shareholder meeting had been set to take place. The company delayed the meeting but didn't give a new date.

Men's Wearhouse gave no reason for the abrupt firing of Zimmer, who built Men's Wearhouse from one small Texas store using a cigar box as a cash register to one of the North America's largest specialty men's clothiers with 1,143 locations. The company generated revenue of $2.48 billion in its latest fiscal year ended Feb. 2.

The company said the purpose of postponing the annual meeting is to re-nominate the existing board of directors without Zimmer. It said the board expects to discuss with Zimmer the extent, if any, and terms of "his ongoing relationship" with the company. Zimmer expressed his frustrations Wednesday to CNBC.

"Over the last 40 years, I have built MW into a multi-billion dollar company with amazing employees and loyal customers who value the products and service they receive at MW," Zimmer told CNBC. "Over the past several months I have expressed my concerns to the Board about the direction the company is currently heading. Instead of fostering the kind of dialogue in the Boardroom that has in part contributed to our success, the Board has inappropriately chosen to silence my concerns through termination as an executive officer."

The news shocked analysts and corporate governance experts, who tried to speculate what happened.

"This is very rare to fire a founder. Founders are generally entrenched in the company," said Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of The Value Alliance, a board advisory firm.

Zimmer, who handed over his CEO title to Douglas Ewert in 2011, was the company's personable, down-to-earth face.

Zimmer is also known for his activism in favor of legalizing marijuana. He donated thousands of dollars in support of a 2010 California ballot initiative that would have legalized the drug, according to LA Weekly.

As of late morning, the company's website still prominently spotlighted Zimmer, calling him "The Man Behind The Brand" and linking to YouTube videos of "the man in action."

The abrupt departure comes a week after Men's Wearhouse reported that its fiscal first-quarter profit increased 23 percent, helped by stronger margins and an earlier prom season.

In 1971, fresh out of college, Zimmer made his first foray into the clothing industry, working in Hong Kong for six months as a salesman for his father's coat manufacturing business, according to the company website.

In 1973, he and his college roommate opened the first Men's Wearhouse store, which sold $10 slacks and $25 polyester sport coats, in Houston. His personal car was a van with the company logo on the side and clothing racks in the back.

The company launched its first TV commercial in the 1970s when commercials for clothing were rare. Zimmer starred in his first TV commercial in 1986, with the line "I guarantee it."

Men's Wearhouse kept expanding, focusing on large markets where business was sluggish to take advantage of lower real estate costs. It also expanded beyond sports coats and trousers to casual sportswear in the 1980s and then went into the tuxedo rental business in 2000.

Zimmer owned 1.8 million shares of Men's Wearhouse as of the company's May 9 proxy filing, a 3.5 percent stake in the company.

Shares of Men's Wearhouse fell more than 2 percent, or 80 cents, to $36.67 in morning trading. The stock has traded between $25.97 and $38.59 in the past 52 weeks, and ended Tuesday up about 20 percent since the start of the year.

The company, based in Fremont, Calif., also runs the Moores and K&G retail chains. It also sells uniform and work wear in the U.S. and U.K.

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