Pay and Power Among Reasons Men's Wearhouse Fired George Zimmer, the Company Hints

PHOTO: In this May 6, 1999 file photo, George Zimmer, second from left, gestures to Andy Dolich prior to a meeting, in Oakland, Calif.
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In a rare insider's view of a board room battle, Men's Wearhouse is defending the firing of founder and executive chairman George Zimmer, saying there were disagreements over compensation and that he "had difficulty accepting the fact that Men's Wearhouse is a public company."

On Tuesday, the company released a statement that detailed how Zimmer reversed his "long-standing position against taking the company private" and wanted to sell out to an investment group. But the company believed that move "would not be in the best interests of our shareholders, and it would be a very risky path on many levels."

"It would require the company to take on a huge amount of debt to pay for such a transaction," the company said in its statement. "The Board strongly believes that such a transaction would be highly risky for our employees and would threaten our company culture that is so important to all of us."

Men's Wearhouse investors reacted positively to the statement, as the stock price [NYSE: MW] spiked more than 5 percent to $37 on Tuesday morning.

"Neither the Board nor management desired a total breakdown of the relationship between Mr. Zimmer and the company," the company said. "In our discussions with Mr. Zimmer, we made considerable efforts to find a solution that would have allowed him to continue to have a significant involvement with Men's Wearhouse. Unfortunately, Mr. Zimmer wouldn't accept anything other than full control of the company and the Board was left with no choice but to terminate him as executive chairman."

Richard Jaffe, analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, said he was surprised by the "dirty laundry" aired in public by the board of directors of Men's Wearhouse, but applauded the firm's transparency.

"The company went into tremendous detail about the nature of the dissent, which is a little bit awkward," he said. The areas of disagreement included a strategic review or possible sale of its K&G stores, executive compensation and wanting more power in decisions.

Zimmer named a new CEO, Doug Ewert, two years ago while designer Joseph Abboud was named as chief creator director in Dec. 2012.

"After selecting our CEO, Doug Ewert, and several of the key management team members that have effectively been running the company for many years with great success, Mr. Zimmer eventually refused to support the team unless they acquiesced to his demands," the company said in its statement. "Mr. Zimmer expected veto power over significant corporate decisions. Among them was executive compensation despite the fact that we – as required of a public company – have an independent committee of the Board that sets policy in this area."

Zimmer's most recent pay figure is $1,985,916, according to executive compensation data firm Equilar. According to the firm's most recent proxy, he has 1,771,625 shares, about 3 percent of the company, that are worth about $66 million.

President and CEO Doug Ewert earned $2.1 million last year, down from $5.4 million in 2011. Executive vice president Charles Bressler earned $2 million, up from $1.8 million in 2011, according to Equilar.

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