WWD.com/business-news/mergers-acquisitions/george-zimmer-said-eyeing-mens-wearhouse-takeover-7095475/
government-trade
government-trade

George Zimmer Said Eyeing Men’s Wearhouse Takeover

The former chairman has been reaching out to any private equity firm that might be a potential partner in a leveraged buyout of the $2.5 billion retailer.

George Zimmer still has his eye on The Men’s Wearhouse Inc.

This story first appeared in the August 22, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Financial sources said the former chairman and founder of the men’s retailer is still plotting a takeover of the company.

According to sources, Zimmer has been making the rounds and reaching out to any private equity firm that might be a potential partner in a leveraged buyout of the $2.5 billion retailer. One problem: any attempt is likely to be in the form of a hostile bid since the retailer’s board has said it is not interested in selling the company. This follows Zimmer’s reaching out to investment banking firms earlier in the year about taking the retail chain private.

Two financial sponsors that Zimmer, or someone connected to him, is said to have reached out to as potential LBO partners are Guggenheim Partners and Apax Partners. Both have experience in retail investments and in the fashion sector.

Spokesmen for both Guggenheim and Apax declined comment.

RELATED STORY: George Zimmer Offers Sharp Rebuke of MW View of Board Battle >>

Financial and market sources said Zimmer has reached out to the firms within the past month or so. But it wasn’t immediately clear whether any overture was also made shortly before he left the retailer in June.

WWD also learned that Apax, at least, isn’t interested in pursuing any dialogue with Zimmer. It couldn’t be determined whether Zimmer has been successful in garnering any interest from Guggenheim, but a source said there are probably no ongoing discussions between the two at this point either. While Guggenheim has been hunting for appropriate investments, it is not a particular fan of hostile takeovers.

Zimmer, who owns 3.5 percent of the company’s stock, declined comment. Current Men’s Wearhouse chief executive officer Doug Ewert could not be reached for comment.

“It’s obvious that he’s going to make an offer,” said William Susman, founder of the boutique advisory and research firm Threadstone Partners. “Hell hath no fury like a retail executive scorned. But the board will fight him tooth and nail and I don’t think he’s going to get it.”

While some investment professionals said they believe Men’s Wearhouse would be an ideal LBO candidate due to its clean balance sheet and no debt, others point to the difficulties at hand in finding a sponsor when there is a board that so obviously is against the idea.

It was Zimmer’s takeover plot that supposedly got him ousted from the firm that he founded.

Two years after turning the ceo reins over to Ewert, Zimmer “advocated for significant changes that would enable him to regain control, but ultimately he was unable to convince any of the board members or senior executives that his positions were in the best interests of employees, shareholders or the company’s future,” the Men’s Wearhouse board said on June 25, a day after the company founder resigned his board seat and less than a week after he was ousted as executive chairman.

The board additionally said at the time that Zimmer “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.” When his repeated attempts to be the primary decision-maker — attempts that included demands for “veto power over significant corporate decisions” — were not granted, Zimmer started talking to investment banking firms about buying the company.

Zimmer’s LBO plan is a reversal of what had been a long-standing position against taking the men’s retailer private.

In the last few months of his tenure, Zimmer’s dissatisfaction with existing management’s decisions seemed to expand on multiple fronts. He supposedly disagreed with the decision to sell the K&G Fashion Superstore division.

And he also was said to disagree with the positioning of designer Joseph Abboud as the style expert for the company.

Since Zimmer left the company, Men’s Wearhouse last month acquired the Joseph Abboud brand for $97.5 million in cash from JA Holding Inc., a subsidiary of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates.

Market sources said Wednesday that Zimmer believes his former company overpaid for the acquisition.