The clothing industry is a terrible businessâ€”unless you’re No. 1, like George Zimmer, founder and executive chairman of The Men’s Wearhouse. “Unlike the computer business, where some smart person can come in over the weekend and take the market with a new invention, the clothing industry doesn’t change very quickly,” he explains.
Since founding the company in 1973, Zimmer has weathered its many storms and revised his strategies to maintain the values and corporate climate he prefers. His company has generated more than $2 billion in sales and a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, while Zimmer has grown as a company co-founder, entrepreneur and TV icon.
He created his Fortune 1000 company with a corporate culture that has been recognized as one of FORTUNE Magazine‘s 100 Best Companies to Work For in America in eight of the last nine years.
George Zimmer, executive chairman and founder of The Men’s Wearhouse, accepts the Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award. Founded with a single location in 1973, the company has expanded to become the largest retailer of men’s tailored suits, dress casual clothing and tuxedo rentals in the U.S. and Canada. (view more photos)
To recognize the way Zimmer does business, Mays Business School honored him with the Kupfer Distinguished Executive Award. After receiving the award, Zimmer gave a lecture in Ray Auditorium, then had breakfast and meetings with students and faculty members.
The award was created as a lasting tribute to Harold L. Kupfer ’54’s professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication to service. Kupfer’s friends Gerald Ray ’54 and Donald Zale ’55 created the award to honor Kupfer’s outstanding career and contributions to the Texas business community.
After graduating from Texas A&M University, Kupfer was an officer in the U.S. Army, then began an investment career with Dallas-based Sanders and Co. His last professional association was with Jefferies & Co., where he earned a place in the Jefferies “Hall of Fame” and was recognized as a sales professional with an award in his name.
The Kupfer award is special, says Mays Dean Jerry Strawser, because “it recognizes a business leader who has changed the way the world works.” He says the award recognizes friendship, loyalty and the three men’s strong ties to Texas A&M and to each other.
Zimmer says he was honored to receive the award, and that he has long admired business success stories that stem from Texas.
His is one of them.
Zimmer opened his first store in Houston in 1973, stretching a $7,000 investment to buy simple cash registers and portable racks to hold his inventory of sport coats and slacks. On the opening day, a Saturday, sales totaled $3,000â€”which Zimmer quickly calculated could generate nearly $1 million a year. The next Monday, sales barely hit $60. “I got a quick lesson in the ups and downs of retail,” he says. “I learned to plan for the slow days.”
During a tough economic slump in Texas, Zimmer and his brother borrowed from their mother to stave off a $2 million loan that was being called. “We promised our mother we would base our business on values rather than wishful thinking,” he says.
“The Golden Rule is still a good way to live,” Zimmer told students. (view more photos)
Under his leadership, the company has become the largest retailer of men’s tailored suits, dress casual clothing and tuxedo rentals in the U.S. and Canada. The employee base expanded from that single store to a force of 17,000 in more than 1,200 stores.
The company had no mission statement, just what Zimmer calls “the cultural values of the “60sâ€”what some would call “hippie values ” of doing the right thing and treating one another well.” He adds, “The Golden Rule is still a good way to live.”
Strawser says Zimmer embodies the Aggie Core Values, though he is not an Aggie.
Zimmer values trust, fairness and compassion in his company. Trust extends to operating in what Zimmer calls “full transparency,” which excludes secret shoppers or other surprises for his store managers. Fairness means considering the most qualified candidates from inside the stores for promotions and Zimmer’s self-imposed income limit to 10 times the average store manager’s salary. Compassion is reflected in infant care centers at corporate buildings, funds to cover employees’ financial emergencies and a self-insurance plan.
Additional core values of respect, integrity, authenticity, celebration, good will and caring for each other complement the company’s essential principles of hard work, accountability, loyalty and commitment to customer service. The resulting high-quality work environment inspires employees to deliver a shopping experience that enables Zimmer, the company’s spokesman, to confidently say “I guarantee it” in all its television and radio advertisements.
“The reason that campaign has been successful is because we’ve repeated it a million times,” he says. “That’s the key to advertisingâ€”repetition and consistency.”