Men's Wearhouse (NYSE:MW) terminated its founder and chief commercial spokesperson, George Zimmer, on Wednesday (June 19), just hours before the apparel chain's annual meeting was scheduled to begin. The firing came after Zimmer, the chain's executive chairman, clashed repeatedly with his hand-picked CEO over the company's direction, according to Bloomberg.
The timing of the announcement made it clear the firing was a sudden decision. The company postponed Wednesday's shareholder event and did not announce a new date for the meeting, citing the need to renominate the existing board of directors without Zimmer. The chain's website also prominently featured Zimmer's face for much of Wednesday—not a sign that the company was prepared for the firing.
Zimmer's termination is especially tricky because he has appeared in the chain's television commercials since 1986. Men's Wearhouse has paid Zimmer $10,000 per year for the use of his likeness in ads, but that fee jumps to $250,000 if Zimmer ceases to be an employee for any reason, The Associated Press reported, based on the chain's proxy statement.
The money aside, Zimmer—with his catchphrases "You're gonna like the way you look" and "I guarantee it"—has been the brand image for the chain for most of its 40-year existence. Losing Zimmer as commercial spokesperson is the rough equivalent of KFC (NYSE:YUM) suddenly dumping Colonel Sanders, but without any Colonel-less marketing ready to fill the gap.
As part of its brief announcement of the termination, the chain said it "expects to discuss with Mr. Zimmer the extent, if any, and terms of his ongoing relationship with the company."
That sounds unlikely right now. In his own statement Wednesday, Zimmer 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 by terminating me as an executive officer."
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