Updated, July 22:
A day after Jide Zeitlin published the LinkedIn post detailed below, the reporter, William Cohan, who is referenced below published an in-depth story regarding the situation here.
What We Originally Reported:
Hours after resigning from the top job at Tapestry Inc., Jide Zeitlin is telling his side of a dramatic story.
In a lengthy LinkedIn post published this afternoon, the executive addressed media speculation about the reasons he stepped down.
“I have long believed in the importance of telling one’s own life story, rather than allowing others to control the narrative,” Zeitlin wrote in a letter addressed to Tapestry employees. “I believe I have handled myself with dignity and integrity. Over the last 14 years, as my role has evolved from being a member of the board of directors, to being chairman, to being chief executive officer, I have consistently put the company first, and I want you to hear about the events of recent months directly from me.”
This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that Tapestry had opened an investigation into Zeitlin’s personal behavior. According to the newspaper, the Tapestry board, with the help of an outside counsel, was investigating a woman’s allegations that Zeitlin had posed as a photographer to lure her into a romantic relationship in 2007.
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The executive, who had been one of only five Black CEOs on the Fortune 500, directly addressed the situation by detailing a series of events that, according to him, have unfolded in the past year.
“This chapter to my life story began shortly after I was named CEO. A journalist named William Cohan approached the Company telling us that he planned to write a profile of me for Air Mail, an online periodical edited by Graydon Carter. He claimed to want to write a comprehensive profile about my life’s journey from West Africa to Wall Street to Tapestry,” Zeitlin wrote. “I did not know Cohan, but he had included a complimentary reference to me in a book he wrote nine years ago about Goldman Sachs, my former employer. I initially declined Cohan’s interview request as I believed it was too early in my tenure as CEO. Over a number of months, Cohan was dogged in his pursuit of an interview and I ultimately agreed to sit down with him.”
Zeitlin said that about six months ago, it became evident that the article might include allegations that were made 11 years ago when then President Obama nominated him to be ambassador to the United Nations. “At its core, was the allegation that I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman whom I had met while pursuing my interest in photography,” Zeitlin wrote.
Zeitlin recalled that after developing a passion for photography at a young age when his father worked as a foreign correspondent, he had work published in publications such as The Boston Globe. “For privacy reasons when I was rising through the ranks as a rare Black banker, I sometimes used a pseudonym, based on my middle name ‘James,’ when photographing strangers,” he recalled, before addressing the relationship with the woman specifically.
“The allegations that I drew too close to the above woman are true; however, our relationship began and concluded 13 years ago, it had nothing to do with my role at Tapestry, and I did not use power, wealth, or position to further that relationship. Cohan’s inordinate focus on this dated matter was and remains odd and unsettling,” he wrote.
According to Zeitlin, Cohan resurfaced a month ago with “aggressive questions” that “appeared in part intended to force the Tapestry board to consider [Cohan’s] allegations.” Now, according to Zeitlin, Cohan was no longer pursuing the story for Air Mail, “but now intended to publish an article on a website run by a little known foundation where he is an officer and where many of the foundation’s funders are hedge funds, often short sellers. At least one of the funders has traded in Tapestry stock.”
An Air Mail spokeswoman told FN that when Cohan presented his allegations to the publication a few months ago, they could not be corroborated. “He’s a dogged reporter so he took the piece elsewhere, and as of yesterday he was able to get corroboration from Tapestry itself, she said. While Cohan himself did not address any specific points of Zeitlin’s post, he told FN he had been working on a story about Zeitlin and Tapestry, in partnership with ProPublica. That story was published today.
Zeitlin said he has been working with legal counsel and advisors to understand Cohan’s motivation. “Among other actions, he has repeatedly refused to engage with my spokeswoman and he sent e-mails to various people surrounding me that an investigative firm working with me has concluded were embedded with tracking software,” Zeitlin alleged in his LinkedIn post. “At the same time, a Tapestry colleague received an anonymous e-mail furthering his claims, which had the identical tracking software embedded in it. It is hard to reach any conclusion other than that Cohan crossed the line in his pursuit of this story. I do not know if his agenda is financial, political, or in this age of social justice if he is driven by some other motivation.”
Zeitlin went on to acknowledge he had made a mistake in having the relationship with the woman and claims he addressed the fallout at the time. “But, more than a decade after my U.N. nomination process, I cannot allow these allegations to be weaponized against me. I cannot allow someone to treat me with the lack of decency that Cohan has brought to his crusade against me as I passionately worked alongside all of you to navigate this critical moment in history for Tapestry,” he said.
Zeitlin said he came to the conclusion that the “distraction” would not allow him to continue as CEO. “I hope you know how deeply I care about you and the company. The last thing I want is to add to the uncertainty each of you are already facing due to Covid-19 and the economic downturn. My time at Coach and then Tapestry has been life defining for me.”
The executive’s departure comes at a pivotal time for the company, which has seen an intense amount of executive shuffling. Zeitlin stepped in last fall when former CEO Victor Luis abruptly stepped down as Tapestry struggled with Kate Spade’s overhaul. Since then, brand heads at Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman have all exited, and new leadership is in place across the portfolio.
After Zeitlin resigned this morning, the company has announced a series of interim appointments. CFO Joanne Crevoiserat has been named interim Tapestry CEO. President, chief administrative officer and company secretary Todd Kahn will serve as interim CEO and brand president of Coach. Global head of investor relations and corporate communications Andrea Shaw Resnick has been appointed interim CFO, and lead independent director Susan Kropf has been made chair of the board of directors. Tapestry will commence a search for a permanent CEO, looking at internal and external candidates.
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