American Apparel, Dov Charney's skeevy apparel empire, is in mortal financial peril. Now, the chattering has already begun: Could the company survive without Dov Charney at the helm? Well, of course. How else would it survive?
Business reporter Mark Lacter went on the air yesterday to express what's become conventional wisdom: "The one step that could really help is bringing in a new chief executive to replace Dov Charney, the controversial founder of the company. Now, Charney is truly a success story, but like a lot of entrepreneurs he's not been able to transition from a small business to one that generates more than half a billion dollars in sales (that's a big transition), and also like a lot of entrepreneurs, he simply refuses to give up the reins. As long as he's running the show, investors are likely to steer clear."
Quite right. Dov Charney deserves all the credit in the world for building American Apparel. It was built on Dov's own sensibility—borderline porn advertising, basic throwback clothes beloved by fauxhemians, and a dash of social conscience and admirable labor practices to balance out the rampant sexism and other, not so admirable labor practices. But clearly, Dov's wild-boy bullshit works a lot better with a small, up-and-coming business that needs all the publicity it can get than it does with a huge international public company that, frankly, could use a lot less exposure at the moment.
Dov Charney is a great showman. But he's not a great businessman. In five years, he's managed to do this to his company's stock. And while it can't solely be blamed on him, most of it can. He's never been known as a great manager. He's treated his company as a personal plaything, and—according to countless employees who've emailed us—he's delegated significant responsibilities to underlings who were, to be polite, not selected for their management prowess.
That stuff adds up over time. The endgame is coming for Dov. The AA brand still has value. It could certainly attract interest from financial saviors, in one form or another. But no savvy investor is going to give Dov Charney himself a pile of money to burn through again. American Apparel may survive. As for Dov Charney—we're sure he can come up with a new idea.