Politics, Sausage and…suits?

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I read yesterday that the founder of Men’s Wearhouse, George Zimmer, was booted from the board of directors where he served as Executive Chairman. One never knows the real ‘why?’ in such matters. Doesn’t much matter in this case as GZ cashed-out several years ago continuing aboard to remain as the face of the company. USA Today described the dismissal as “Men’s Wearhouse no longer likes the way that George Zimmer looks.” A reminder to get it while you can for fame is ephemeral.

I met George at a Duke Business School (Fuqua) function in 199X, Pre-Internet, where he was the keynote speaker. My story has two parts: 1) he arrived so late on Friday evening, the night before the Entrepreneurial Conference sponsored by our local CED, that the Director of CED, Monica Doss, offered me his room at the Washington Duke Inn. One man’s loss etc. Unfortunately, George did arrive very late that night becoming displeased that someone else was sleeping in his bed. I guarantee it. I learned of his furor the next morning at the pre-conference speaker’s breakfast which is part (2) of my story.

Tom Keller, the accountant who elevated Fuqua Business School from a name to a brand, was Dean at that time. He and I and Jill greeted GZ and his assistant on the Saturday morning of Conference. I introduced myself; GZ replied, not gracefully nor with humor, “I know who you are; you’re the guy who slept in my room.” Mildly befuddled, Dean Keller reviewed the events of the day describing in detail the keynote role that GZ was asked (I think hired or, at least, paid) to play.

A lull ensued between the end of this speaker briefing and the time for GZ to head to the auditorium. Well mannered Tom K. asked New Jersey George what advice would he give to business school students as they consider individual post graduate careers? In so many and not many words, the son of the tailor from New Jersey replied that they ‘should quit business school and get real jobs where they could learn something about something.’ Not a quote and not far from the actual and intended message. A moment or two lasting an eternity or two passed then Dean Keller led our party of bed-snatchers and clothing moguls to the auditorium.

Mr. Zimmer impressed the audience with the candid tale of his entrepreneurial path encouraging perseverance and concentration of purpose. He was a hit even if the moment didn’t suit him.