Friday, October 19, 2012

Uncovered Document Reveals Abercrombie Chairman & CEO Mike Jeffries' Private Male Model Demands and New Insights Into His Personal Life...

Mike photographed at the National Retail Federation conference in New York City, 2012.
Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP Photo  |  (image source)
Since his revolution of Abercrombie & Fitch, Micheal "Mike" Jeffries has become known for his genius and his eccentricity. The man is the 68 year-old head of a globally iconic, youthful, multi-billion dollar Company which he presides over with a personal, thoroughly obsessive iron fist...Mike is A&F...A&F is Mike. Simulating youthfulness in physicality and mind, he maintains his hair blond and is no stranger to the word "dude." It can well be said that sometimes genius and eccentricity in character do go well hand-in-hand, but it is no partnering unaccustomed to misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and controversy.

Recently, an eye-raising document – the so-called "Aircraft Standards" manual – has surfaced from a age-discrimination lawsuit filed in 2010 by then-53-year-old pilot Michael Stephen Bustin. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported, Abercrombie & Fitch Co does not directly employ any pilots, but Bustin claims he was replaced purposefully by a younger pilot for Mike. Now while the Company holds that the lawsuit is of no value, Mike's demands have once again fallen under scrutiny....because of the contents of the aforementioned manual.

The 40+ page manual was composed by Matthew Smith - a man not employed by Abercrombie & Fitch Co, but who heads the Jeffries Family Office, an Ohio limited liability corporation founded circa 1998, which oversees the personal assets and interests of Mike. As an individual who is not a part of the Company, Matthew is nevertheless given quite deep insights into the Company's operations. He is even given detailed information on daily sales of the Company overall, and by brand, as well as other non-public corporate material. Matthew is described as a "live-in partner" of Mike's which can mean in general an arrangement between two unrelated people who purchase a home, sharing responsibilities for said property, and there may or may not be further commitments between the members of the partnership within the context of whatever their relationship may further be.

This manual was of the Jeffries Family Office, as being authored by Matthew, and it contains a set of rules, specifications, and conditions for those who are hired to serve Mike and Matthew. When it comes to the US$50 million Gulfstream G5550 Abercrombie & Fitch corporate jet, the Jeffries Family Office is responsible for the maintenance, operation, and staffing; it contracts onboard staff and "recommends" them to A&F for the jet. The Company then in turn contracts the recommended people. The New York City-based company Cosmopolitan Management LLC (see here) provides models and "actors" involved who surround Mike and Matthew and who must comply to the manual. A&F pays salary and travel expenses for four of such employees while onboard with Mike on the A&F corporate jet. Cosmopolitan Management also provides Mike and Matthew with house staff managed by the Jeffries Family Office.

The following are some of the disclosed demands from the manual that pertain to male models serving Mike...
  • Must be clean-shaven and smelling of a specified A&F cologne
  • They must wear a "uniform" which even includes what underwear to wear. This uniform consists of an A&F polo, boxer briefs undies, jeans, and flip-flops. When the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), they must wear an A&F jacket zipped up to the fourth lower button, the bottom button left unbuttoned, and the collar should be popped up. A drop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) or below requires hats with the brim folded two inches. Other accessories include wearing a belt, gloves (when necessary), and having certain A&F cologne. Matthew described the uniform for the jet crew as being like that of an A&F Flagship "doorman".
  • Absolutely no jewelry with the only exceptions applying to watches and wedding rings.
  • When responding to a demand from Mike, Matthew, or one of Mike's "entourage", the models are to respond by saying, "No problem." Not by saying "sure" or "in a minute." The response is to be "no problem."
  • When on the jet, they are to spray the bedding with "sleep spray" before the entourage take a nap.
  • When serving at home, they are instructed not to expose toilet paper nor fold the end square.
  • Black gloves are to be used when handling the silverware and white gloves are to be used when laying the table (this presumably being for at home, but could also include when dining onboard the jet?).
  • Furthermore, Matthew has the models serve him Assam tea in the morning and Darlingjee tea at precisely 2:00PM on a "small tray with a small tray liner."
In addition, Mike travels with his three dogs – Ruby, Trouble, and Sammy. The seating arrangements on the corporate jet are set according to which of the dogs are traveling onboard. Ruby is to sit in Sammy's seat found opposite of Mike when only Ruby and Trouble come onboard. Ruby is then to sit in Trouble's seat when Sammy flies with them. (But then can only two of them fly at the same time?) There is even a reference to a "houseman" who handles boarding the dogs on the aircraft.

Other miscellaneous things are: the song Take Me Home (not clear whether Cher's or Phill Collin's version, but honestly which do you think?) is to he played when passengers board the aircraft; staffers must ensure that the aircraft is spotless with no fingerprints; there must be arranged flowers; when serving food, salt and pepper shakers are to be placed in the center of serving trays; and the seat buckles must be meticulously folded.

Mike prior to the opening of A&F Hong Kong.
Mike's most recent notable flight was in August 2012 when he flew in for the grand opening of the first Abercrombie & Fitch-branded location in China – the highly successful and most publicized A&F Flagship in Hong Kong's Central district.

During the years of consecutive profits, Abercrombie & Fitch Co did not question Mike's personal eccentricities and demands, nor his positive, yet bold and risky, management of the Company. However, since the Great Recession took a toll on the Company in the late-2000s, he has fallen under heavily scrutiny. His contract was renewed in 2008 and it limited for the first time his usage of the jet. That year alone, he figured US$1.1 million in expenses with the jet, and he had averaged US$850,000 a year between 2006 and 2008 on personal use. By 2010, the Company's board paid him US$4 million to agree to a limit of US$200,000 for personal use – a dramatic limit from the prior years. But more recently within the past month, a takeover of Abercrombie & Fitch, by a private-equity firm, was rumored as Ralph Whitworth’s Relational Investors LLC sought changes in A&F operations. Any takeover could have resulted in stripping Mike of his leadership. That would have cost the Company US$105.6 million in payment to Mike for removing him...that and Mike would not allow for a takeover.

Mike's contract with Abercrombie & Fitch Co is set to expire in 2014. To be renewed or not, that is the question. And many at A&F carry worries from what Boomberg Businessweek quoted as being a "leadership vacuum perspective." Craig Stapleton, currently on the A&F board of directors and a former United States ambassador to France, has stated that Abercrombie & Fitch "has a great number of talented individuals throughout all key operational areas. The talent pool for successors, not only of the CEO but also other key executives, is deep." Nevertheless, Mike is the founder of the modern A&F and a departure from such a monumental leader is never one with easy. So let's raise our FIERCE cologne bottles to Mike and the continuance of his genius and eccentricity at the helm of Abercrombie & Fitch...