March 1, 2017. New York, NY.
Spencer Hays, of Nashville, TN and New York, NY, died March 1 in New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York after suffering a brain aneurism. He was 80 years old.
Hays, a menswear industry icon, was known for his keen business acumen, and also for his giving spirit.
“Mr. Hays could have structured his companies so that he earned all of the profit,” said Todd Browne, CEO of Tom James, “but he decided, instead, to allow employees a chance to own a piece of the company. Tom James is employee owned, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Hays.”
Spencer Hays was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma in 1936 and was raised by his grandmother, Mary Moore, who taught him the values that are infused into his companies today. He later moved to Texas, where he met his wife of 60 years, Marlene Moss.
He attended TCU on a basketball scholarship and just after marrying, took his wife to training to learn to sell Bibles door to door with the Southwestern Company in Nashville, TN, in 1959. Hays excelled there, setting records and leading the largest teams of college students. After college he worked for Southwestern full time, eventually becoming President, then Chairman. He led a buy-back of Southwestern from the Times Mirror Company in 1982.
The Southwestern Company gave Hays the opportunity to develop his sales skills and the success to fund his future.
“Spencer knew ‘nothing happens until something is sold’”, Browne said. “He was proud of his sales heritage, in fact his business card didn’t say 'Executive Chairman’; it simply said, 'Salesman.'
"Spencer was unusual in that he was often found wearing a suit and tie in junior high and high school," said Browne. “He learned the love of fine cloth from his grandmother, who was a seamstress. And he understood the value of looking one’s best."
As a businessman, Hays would often travel out of town, with little time to shop. When he would go to fine men’s stores he found the employees wouldn’t remember his name or what size he wore, or even what they had sold him on his last visit. That experience inspired the founding of Tom James.
Hays had developed a lot of talent through his experience at Southwestern and he had been looking for a way to put that talent to good use.
Hays had a friend who worked for Genesco, who, at the time, owned English American Tailoring. Hays contracted with them to make custom suits and used his network from Southwestern to represent the service and in 1966 founded Tom James Company, in Nashville, TN selling quality suits to busy professionals in their homes or offices.
It was a move of sheer brilliance. There was no inventory to hang, as the products were custom suits. There was very little overhead as cloth and garments were only purchased when one was sold. The concept was new and fresh and with the infusion of Spencer’s resources, monetarily, and through his network of salespeople, Tom James grew.
They quickly added locations in Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas and Tulsa. As the business grew, Tom James acquired Individualized Shirts followed by English American, along with other facilities making clothing in the US.
“It was a time that was tenuous for shops like this in America,” said Phil Williams, CFO. “Tom James was in the position to come in and keep these manufacturers from being shuttered. We literally saved jobs in the process.”
Over time Tom James acquired a variety of companies, including Oxxford Clothes Inc., known as crafting ‘the last hand-made suit in America’ and Holland & Sherry, Ltd., Purveyors of Fine Cloth.
Today, Tom James is comprised of 15 different clothing companies plus Tom James retail which markets what those companies make, with custom suits and custom shirts being their primary product offering. They have a presence in over 100 markets in the US, Canada, Australia, England, Holland and Dubai.
Hays, who was always impeccably dressed — also purchased Athlon Sports Communications Inc., another Nashville based business, which publishes Parade magazine as well as sports annuals and multiple other publications.
Hays would often remind people, “Don’t forget that people won’t necessarily remember what you said to them, but they always will remember how you made them feel.”
It was his intention to always treat people with dignity and respect. He carried the principles he learned from his grandmother and infused them into the lifeblood of his companies, offering profit sharing, stock ownership and opportunity.
“He wanted all employees to retire with dignity,” said Williams, “In fact, each year, he still sends a check to the original bookkeeper who got us through those early years. She left before the profit sharing program was started and he just felt committed to her. That kind of generosity makes for loyal employees. It’s not unusual for employees to stay with us for 30, even 40 years.”
Williams himself will celebrate 36 years with Tom James in 2017.
Hays was known for how he treated the people in his employ. Browne recounted one business trip where Hays gave his first-class seat to a new employee, going to sit in coach himself. At business meetings, Hays was often the one pouring the water or serving the refreshments.
"He purposed to be a servant-leader," Browne said.
He also was known for teaching the children of employees, the value of a dollar. Many of them – some who have now gone to work for Tom James as clothiers – recall his giving them a $5 bill. He would instruct them: “Save some. Give away some, and spend the rest.”
Jim Brubaker, COO for Individualized Shirts said, “Mr. Hays was a man of unbridled optimism and encouragement, he’d often call me saying, “Is this the dynamic, magnetic, spectacular and incredible, powerful, productive and proficient, Jim Brubaker?” He was known for starting his day with ‘I feel happy, I feel healthy, I feel terrific!’ And he encouraged us to do the same.
Hays would often say, "Set really big goals, have really, really good self-talk and hold yourself accountable."
Holding oneself accountable seemingly came easy for Hays. He was known for writing letters that would challenge and encourage his top managers, and help hold them accountable.
Hay would roll up his sleeves and work hard. When the President of English American was killed in a car accident, he packed a suitcase and went to Westminster, Maryland to assist. He stayed in a modest hotel for months going back and forth to Nashville to see his family. He stayed until he put new leadership in place. He was that type of leader.
Longtime CEO of Southwestern/Great American Inc, Ralph Mosley spoke to Hays at a recent dinner party and Hays told him, "I want to work to the last day." He did just that. On the day before his aneurism, he was in New York attending business meetings and dining with partners.
"He didn’t have excuses for himself, and he expected the same from all of us," Mosley said. "He would often say: ‘There are two kinds of people in the world – those who find a way and those who find an excuse.’ Excuses were not acceptable. We were expected to find a way!”
Karen Alberg, Editor in Chief of MR Magazine, lead industry publication for the menswear industry, said Spencer told her once: ‘Tie yourself to principles, not people. Set high goals and hold yourself accountable. Don’t ever fault someone for making a mistake, only for not admitting to it. The value of mistakes is learning from them: if you can fix them, do so; if not, don’t worry about them and move on.’”
That concept of tying oneself to principles, along with the employee ownership of Tom James assures the legacy continues as the company leadership is strong and sales have climbed handsomely each of the last 6 years!
Hays generosity extends to the causes to which he was committed. He and his wife, Marlene gave $30 million to TCU, his alma mater, to expand the Neeley College of Business, and he was active in supporting numerous arts organizations and museums around the world, but perhaps the most recognized gift was the art bequeathed to Paris’ Musee d’Orsay in October of 2016.
The Hays were among the founding members of the American Friends of the Musee d’Orsay in 2013. In October, the Hays signed papers to give 187 pieces of their extensive French Post-Impressionist art collection, numbering hundreds of pieces, to the museum upon their deaths. It was the largest gift of its kind since World War II.
The Hays were ardent Francophiles and enjoyed collecting art together. They were intent on returning their art to the people of France, for which Hays received the medal of Commander of the Legion of Honor.
He was preceded in death by his mother Maelyn Anthony and his brother Brad Hays. He is survived by his wife of 60 years Marlene, two daughters Julie Gaglione of Brentwood, TN and Mary Alice (Scott) Hughes, Fort Worth, TX, six grandchildren; Franklin (Teresa), Vincent, Molly and Olivia Gaglione and Ethan and Emma Hughes; two sisters, Milly Jackson (John) of Dallas, TX and Mary Meadows of Dallas, TX; brother–in-law Robert Moss (Jo) and a number of nieces and nephews along with his former son-in-law Bill Gaglione.
Donations in his memory may be made to:
The Mary Moore Foundation PO Box 305140 Nashville, TN 37230
American Friends of the Musee d’Orsay c/o Bernie Duhaime, Treasurer, 807 N. 148th Street Omaha, NE 68154, or The United Way of Metropolitan Nashville – 250 Venture Circle, Nashville, TN 37228 (please note ‘Spencer Hays’ in the subject line)
Notes of condolence to the family may be sent to PO Box 305140 Nashville, TN 37230.
You may also include a letter that will be included in a bound volume and presented to his family by emailing it to: [email protected] .
The Mary Moore Foundation was created by Spencer (and named after his grandmother) to assist employees, and in some cases their families, who are facing serious hardships. Donations can be made through www.waterstone.org.
Services will be held at 1:00p Central Time at First Presbyterian Church, 4815 Franklin Pike in Nashville, TN with a reception to follow the service at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts at 919 Broadway in Nashville.
A live stream of the services is available at: https://livestream.com/accounts/23747132