In a surprise move, the Men's Wearhouse board of directors on Wednesday ousted George Zimmer - a national icon known for personally guaranteeing the inexpensive suits and prom tuxedos his company has sold for decades - from his position as executive chairman without stating why.
The board said it “expects to discuss with Mr. Zimmer the extent, if any, and terms of his ongoing relationship with the Company.”
“That's going to be difficult,” said Brenna Bolger. “The sexy voice. He looks so good to men and women. He has been the brand. People have shopped there because of him."
The Men's Wearhouse was founded in 1973 and is one of North America's largest specialty retailers of men's apparel, with 1,143 stores.
When Zimmer wasn't selling suits, he was a political activist. Campaign expenditure reports show Zimmer donating more than $150,000 to Prop. 19, an unsuccessful California measure to legalize marijuana in 2010, and $260,000 to a similar failed measure in 1996. He donated to anti-tobacco measures and early childhood programs.
He also was a major philanthropist to charities he believed in. One was the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, which honored him with an honorary doctor of philosophy in humane letters at a ceremony in San Francisco.
Under his leadership, the Men's Wearhouse has been long listted on Fortune's "The 100 Best Companies to Work For" since 1999.
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. He was CEO from 1991 to 2011, when he became executive chairman.
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 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.
In light of Zimmer's termination, the Men's Wearhouse also announced that it is postponing its annual meeting of shareholders, which had originally been scheduled for Thursday. The purpose of the delay, the board said, is to re-nominate the existing slate of directors without him.
The Associated Press' Anne D'Innocenzio contributed to this report.