One of the hardest things for founders of publicly traded companies to do is let go. Having created, nurtured, and grown their businesses into successful operations, giving up control of their offspring — despite the lure of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from capital markets — is the greatest challenge they face.
The recent ouster of The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW) founder George Zimmer is a case in point. Where Zimmer says he was fired as a way to silence him, the board of directors issued a fuller explanation today that highlighted his unwillingness to let go of the reins.
From clashing with his hand-picked successor, Doug Ewert, wanting “veto power” over things like executive compensation, and suddenly desirous of taking the company private, the board concluded that “Mr. Zimmer wouldn’t accept anything other than full control of the company,” and its hand was forced into firing him.
It’s often difficult to separate the passion that allowed an executive to build his business from the ground up to transition to the more mundane and decentralized systems of most larger, publicly traded companies.
Steve Jobs was a notorious control freak at Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) , which got him ousted once himself, and Aubrey McClendon was just deposed at Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) because he had forgotten his public energy company was no longer his personal fiefdom from which he could take resources at will. SandRidge Energy Inc. (NYSE:SD) founder Tom Ward — who happened to co-found Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) with McClendon — just got the boot last week, too. He also came under scrutiny for related-party transactions, and though the board generously found nothing actionable, the time was apparently right for new leadership.
Founder friction is not always a control issue. Groupon Inc (NASDAQ:GRPN)‘s founder was fired earlier this year because his tenure during the coupon site’s public life was rocky from the get-go, from the use of controversial metrics in its filing papers to poor performance in attracting and keeping customers. Richard Schulze at Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) stepped down because of an inappropriate relationship, but then he sought to take his company back through a going-private deal. When that fell through for a lack of financing, Schulze returned as chairman emeritus. Yet it seems more often than not if a company is going to have trouble with its progenitor, it’s because he has separation issues.