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Executive Voice

Founding The Men’s Wearhouse: A Founder’s Story with George Zimmer

George Zimmer was the founder of The Men’s Wearhouse clothing chain and CEO, board chair, and television spokesperson for the company for forty-one years. Under Zimmer, The Men’s Wearhouse became the largest men’s specialty chain in history with his famous slogan, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” Zimmer was raised in Scarsdale, New York, where he showed an early aptitude for business, becoming a circulation manager for a local newspaper when he was still in high school, and later attending college at Washington University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. Mr. Zimmer also played a crucial role as a pioneer and major financial contributor to California’s Proposition 215 in 1996, the first successful statewide medicinal marijuana campaign in the United States. He lives in Oakland, California, where his primary philanthropic work is focused on the Oakland Zoo. For more about George and his work, visit him at: www.gzimmerbook.com.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I was born in New York City. My folks met, got married, and moved to Stuyvesant Town—a year before I was born in 1948. I don’t remember much about my life in those high-res apartments built on the Lower East Side. My parents left the towers when I was four, and my two younger siblings were already in the planning stages. We moved into a house in the suburb of Scarsdale. This was the beginning of when things went right for me. I jumped into the sixties with my eyes wide open, went away to college at Washington University in St. Louis—where I resisted the Vietnam War and took up a lifetime appreciation of smoking marijuana—and got my degree in economics. From there, I set off on a road of self-discovery to becoming a man.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
My father worked in the clothing industry and put me to work as a traveling salesman. While working for him, I ended up getting cheated by an unscrupulous department store buyer, so I decided to start my own men’s clothing company. I wanted to show the world how to do business right. We named it Men’s Wearhouse. Men’s Wearhouse was built into a strong local chain in southeast Texas before we learned that an honest merchant with strong television advertising could turn the company into an iconic brand. We competed with competitors, went national, and became a darling of Wall Street.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
Make sure you enjoy what you do so that you can always say I have never worked a day in my life. Creating my own company gave me the chance to do things differently, based on the values instilled in me. I knew there had to be a better way of doing business. As a businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, I learned to: make sure you enjoy what you do so that you can always say I have never worked a day in my life.
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