It’s the end of an era for Hartmarx Corp., which is losing its chief executive officer and longtime employee Homi Patel just weeks after being purchased out of bankruptcy by Emerisque Brands.
This story first appeared in the July 31, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Patel, 60, who has worked for the men’s wear giant for more than 30 years, will step down as ceo today.
“I have been extremely privileged to be the head of this wonderful company and its extremely talented and dedicated people,” Patel said of his tenure. “I am particularly proud that even in the most adverse of circumstances, our board and our employees conducted themselves with class and dignity, accomplishing our most important goals of maximizing the sale price while saving our brands and thousands of jobs.”
Patel’s replacement was not immediately revealed, but it is widely expected to be Ajay Khaitan, the principal of Emerisque and a former ceo of denim brand Lee Cooper.
Patel will continue as a director of Hartmarx and is in discussions with Emerisque regarding possible nonexecutive advisory positions.
His retirement marks the end of a particularly rough patch in the company’s history. After two years of strained revenue as sales of men’s suits softened, Hartmarx filed for bankruptcy protection in January. During the Chapter 11 proceedings, the future of the company and its heritage brands was imperiled as liquidators and lenders threatened to scuttle the company.
Patel and Hartmarx’s 3,000 employees found a white knight in private equity firm Emerisque, which purchased the company in June for $128.4 million and has said it wants to keep the company intact.
“Under very difficult circumstances, Homi has done a great job in leading us in the process of the sale of the company which, when closed, will result in saving a significant percentage of our 3,000 jobs and keeping our 100-year-old brands, such as Hickey Freeman, Hart Schaffner Marx and Coppley, alive and well,” said Raymond Farley, lead director of Hartmarx. “On behalf of the board and the employees, we express our gratitude to Homi for his unrelenting efforts and his many years of service.”
But Patel will leave the company before the sale is final. Originally slated to close on July 7, the deal’s completion has been reportedly postponed due to infighting about closing costs.
“The board has known about my departure for six months, but the sale has gone on longer than expected,” he said. “I completed 30 years in April. That was a milestone. It’s time [for the company] to freshen everything up.”
He added he expects the sale to be completed within the next week.
Patel’s last act at Hartmarx may have been challenging, but he oversaw many strategic shifts at the company. Long known as a tailored clothing expert, Hartmarx became a more rounded concern during his tenure. He joined the company in 1979 as the vice president of the company’s now-defunct uniform division and held various marketing and divisional positions before being named president in 1992. He was named chief operating officer in 1993 and ceo in 2002. In that role, Patel led the charge to diversify, acquiring Misook, Christopher Blue and Monarchy, and expanding product offerings within heritage businesses like Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Marx.
Tailored clothing, once 84 percent of the company’s business, now accounts for 48 percent. Women’s — a relative newcomer to Hartmarx’s portfolio — comprises 24 percent of sales. But many industry observers questioned whether the changes happened quickly enough as the company continued to rely on domestically produced tailored clothing, even as its competitors switched to overseas sourcing.
One of the remaining traditional men’s wear companies, Hartmarx was forced to adapt as men’s tastes changed and workplace dress codes relaxed. Patel had the unenviable task of shifting the company’s core competency midstream.
“The company now has a tremendous future with its new management in place and the portfolio of brands,” Patel said regarding Hartmarx’s outlook.
In addition to remaining on the company’s board, Patel plans to devote more time as an adviser to private equity firm Z Capital.
Patel serves on the board of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He is also vice president of the Chicago Botanic Garden and president of the Clothing Manufacturers Association of America.