AP News

Lawsuit shows A&F CEO's finicky travel habits


NEW YORK (AP) — When it comes to flying, it seems that Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael S. Jeffries is obsessed with the details.

A 40-plus page manual that was filed with court documents in relation to an age discrimination suit by a former pilot outlined a list of instructions for crew members aboard the CEO's Gulfstream jet that stipulated everything from how to arrange the toilet paper to what type of cologne should be worn.

Among the details: the male flight crew had to wear a hat, sunglasses, gloves, boxer briefs and a spritz of A&F41. Jeffries also didn't want the toilet paper to be "exposed" and the end square should be folded. As for current issues of magazines like Bloomberg Businessweek or Fortune, they had to be kept in the right side of the credenza. Crew members should always check for fingerprints on the credenza, cabin door, galley door, ledges and the cabinet doors in the lavatory. And the crew has to play the song "Take Me Home" when passengers entered the cabin for the return flight.

Details of the manual, first reported by Bloomberg News late last week, were part of the documents in an age discrimination lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 2010 by former pilot Michael Stephen Bustin, now 55. According to the court papers, Bustin argued he was terminated because of his age so he could be replaced by a younger pilot more in keeping with the company's youthful image. He had piloted Jeffries' Gulfstream from February 2008 until his firing in December 2009.

A&F has dismissed the claims in court documents. Lawyers for Bustin couldn't be immediately reached. Calls to A&F's investor relations weren't immediately returned on Sunday.

The flight manual comes to light as A&F is struggling to sell its preppy jeans and T-shirts at a time when fashion trends are shifting and a rough economy has left teens around the world on tighter budgets. A&F shares, which are hovering around $32, are down more than 30 percent since the beginning of the year. They have lost more than half their value in the past 12 months. A&F reported in August that its profit plunged by more than half in the second quarter as revenue at stores open at least a year fell 10 percent.

A&F also disclosed in August that it will put a hold on opening any additional flagship stores and scale back on the number of locations it opens abroad, in part to prevent stores in international markets from cannibalizing sales from each other. A&F announced in June that it was closing 180 U.S. stores over the next few years. The New Albany, Ohio-based chain had already closed 135 underperforming U.S. stores in two years.

Jeffries, who has been chief executive since 1992 and chairman since 1998, has been responsible for creating its sexy image, fueling lots of controversy. About seven years ago, A&F, known for its racy advertising and scantily clad models outside its stores, had to pay $40 million to several thousand minority and female plaintiffs who charged the chain with discrimination. The settlement also stipulated that A&F has to implement policies and programs to recruit diversity among its workforce.

As for the rulebook for his Gulfstream staffers, it underscores Jeffries' attention to meticulous details, particularly how he wants his flight crew dressed. For example, hats should be worn only when the temperature is below 40 degrees. The brim of the hat should be two inches thick and it should be pulled so that it's about in the middle of the forehead. When wearing a winter coat, the crew has to zip the jacket up to the fourth button from the bottom. The lowest button should be left undone, but the next three buttons up should be fastened. Jeans should sit at the hips, according to the rulebook.

Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst at NBG Productions, said that the manual underscores Jeffries' overall management style.

"None of this is surprising. This story highlights how much control he has over the company, and how much he has hurt the company and how much he has hurt shareholders," he said. A&F, for example, has been late to react to the slowing economy, particularly its move to curb its international expansion, he said.


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