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George Zimmer Didn't Like Getting Fired, He Guarantees It

June 21, 2013

George Zimmer, the public face of Men's Wearhouse, is out of a job at the discount clothing chain he founded. Very few executives have been more closely aligned with the brand they manage that Mr. Zimmer who is famous across the U.S. for the commercials he has been doing for the company since the mid-eighties that concluded with him saying, "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it."

Since Men's Wearhouse failed to provide a reason for Mr. Zimmer's leaving the position, the rest has been left to public speculation.

"We believe that despite Zimmer's planned transition to a smaller role at the company, he had difficulty letting go of the reins and the leadership of the business,'' Richard Jaffe, a retail analyst at Stifel & Co., told USA Today. "We believe that this led to a conflict with the board and his subsequent termination."

Mr. Zimmer spoke with CNBC to offer his side. "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," he said. "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."

Others believe that regardless of the reason for Mr. Zimmer leaving the company, it was time for Men's Wearhouse to retire him as its spokesperson.

"Most companies go through a transition period and change the way they present themselves,'' Gene Grabowski, a branding and crisis-management expert at Levick, told USA Today. "(Mr. Zimmer) and the slogan were getting a little aged. There is appeal to an older audience. They have to find a way to cater to a younger clientele."

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:MW] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

Where do you put George Zimmer in the ranks of corporate executives who also serve as pitch people for their companies? What lessons do you take from the split between Men's Wearhouse and its founder?

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Instant Poll:

Will Men's Wearhouse regret or be satisfied with the decision to fire George Zimmer?

Comments:

Mr. Zimmer has been one of all time greats. But who wears a suit to work? My guess is that Men's Warehouse has issues deeper than who is running the company. Today's executives sit at home in their boxers pushing a mouse around. Tell me why I should go to Men's Warehouse. Catchy ad phrase, but no longer relevant.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

Clearly he and the company are almost indelibly entwined—how indelibly we are about to see.

I don't buy Gene's age argument at face value. Orville Redenbacher, Col. Sanders, et al managed to pull younger customers while wandering off into their dotage.

So, it seems to me there is probably something else at play here.

How good can the pitch be when you retire the pitchman? Depends how skilled the next pitchman is.

As to lessons—the big one is, if you found a firm, make sure you always maintain majority voting stock.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Mr. Zimmer's voice will be missed. But I have to think there are deeper issues. I wore a suit on a sales call this week for the first time in months because the prospect I was calling on still had a rigid dress code. That is rare these days. MW is going to have to transition their business model to cater to a younger audience. How they do this is something I can't help them with.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Here in the Northeast of the United States, the voice of Tom Carvel extolling the virtues of Fudgie the Whale ice cream cakes or claiming that Wednesday is Sundae at Carvel was entwined with the experience of purchasing their products. The other is Perdue—it takes a Tough Man to make a Tender Chicken.

In terms of lessons to take—we don't really know what the issues are/were that occurred, so it is hard to assess. As far as Mr. Livingston's comment about suits not being the standard "uniform" any longer, MW does sell casualwear too and does a reasonable job of being contemporary if not exactly cutting edge.

With a recent college graduate in my home now, I will be making a visit to their stores for "interview suits" in the near future.

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David Zahn, Owner, ZAHN Consulting, LLC

Men's Wearhouse has made a concerted effort to draw awareness to its slim fits and casual offerings, but perhaps Mr. Zimmer's grizzled, suit-wearing self has been getting in the way. Have you noticed that ensemble casts and multi-star lineups have taken over entertainment? That intentionally disjointed advertising has taken hold in advertising (Geico, Target and others)? Perhaps the lesson is that the days of singular visions and founders-as-brands are over.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

Suits and sports jackets were once their bread and butter, but there is nothing in the line "You're going to like the way you look," which has to mean formal business attire over any other apparel they'ed rather focus on in this era. They could have used Zimmerman's familiar and empowering already 15-year-old picture, voice and blurb for the next 20 years while updating the company. Something else is going on.

It's one of the greatest pitch lines ever. Over the years I've heard female salespeople in stores with other names whisper that line with a wink after a customer has chosen an outfit and they both laugh together.

'Liatt'

I had much the same thoughts as Ed and David (although without the image of undies-clad execs, thank you). There are only two founders I can think of who still do pitches and with Tom Shane's voice a good fit for the silent screen, I'd have to say I prefer Mr. Zimmer. Lessons?? The story in the local paper brought to recall some of his extracurricular activities and while the zoo sponsorship seems harmless, some of the more liberal causes may not have sat well with the HQ in Houston. But the biggest lesson is the one Ryan notes: no matter who you are, if you don't control 50+%, you are expendable.

'notcom'

Most times when I see the chairman/CEO as the spokesperson, I see an ego. When advertising agency fail to gain approval for their ideas and story line, to keep the account they tell the key person, "You would be great as the spokesperson." That's when the ego steps in and off they go. Rarely does this person connect with consumers. One weakness of founders is once they fine a winning strategy they never want to change even if the world around them has changed. Remember Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple.

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W. Frank Dell II, CMC, President, Dellmart & Company

You're not going to like the suit I file against you, I guarantee it!

'BigRon'

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