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Menswear giant, exec land blows over firing

– 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 issue 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 the chain.

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.”

“I am kind of sad,” said Gerard McLean, 51, a Web developer from Dayton. “George Zimmer is a trusted face and voice. Men need to hear that their fashion choices are OK.”

McLean said he’ll continue to shop there. But he fears the stores’ no-nonsense fashion choices may fade and drive him elsewhere. “My concern is that (Men’s Wearhouse) will start listening to advice dispensed by the GQ crowd.”

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

But on Tuesday, Men’s Wearhouse said Zimmer, who owns just 3 1/2 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 its CEO Doug Ewert and others 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 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 over the past several months he and the board have disagreed about the direction of Men’s Wearhouse.

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