Spencer Hays
by Karen Alberg Grossman

Spencer HaysThe menswear industry has lost an icon, and an exceedingly gracious, giving man.

Spencer Hays, the intrepid self-made leader of Oxxford, IAG and Tom James, died on Wednesday afternoon at the age of 80. Todd Browne, president and CEO of Tom James, announced the news in an email to all employees. “Spencer had an unwavering passion to provide opportunity for young people who wanted to better themselves through ‘setting high goals, having good self-talk, and holding themselves accountable.’ You heard that phrase repeated in almost every conversation with Mr. Hays. He loved hearing of each of your successes, and how your life and your family’s lives were bettered by your career and opportunity at Tom James. In a recent conversation, Spencer shared with me that his greatest pride was turning Tom James over to each of us through the sharing of company ownership. My admiration, respect, and love for this great man grew with each and every encounter; may the void in our lives be filled by fond memories, sincere appreciation, and continuing his great legacy at Tom James.”

This respect and admiration is echoed by all who knew him, especially his business colleagues. Says IAG president Joe Blair, “Spencer understood intrinsically that selling is a profession, but he took it one step further, turning it into an art form. He was very generous in sharing his time, his wisdom and his passion for the business with me throughout the years, a gift I greatly value.”

Says Robert Stueve of Tom James, “I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Hays for 25 years. Spencer modeled for me how to live a principled life, enhanced by great self-talk. He would open every speech by saying ‘I feel healthy, I feel happy, I feel terrific!’ He believed that the people who built a business should own it. Along with thousands of others in his companies, I benefitted greatly from his philosophy and his generosity.”

“Spencer’s passing is very sad news for those who knew him,” adds Bob Denton, president of Oxxford Clothes. “It’s hard to put into words the impact he made on so many people’s lives. He kept a low profile, but was probably the most important person in the American menswear business over the last 50 years.  He loved the business, especially Oxxford Clothes. His vision and support gave opportunity and careers to hundreds of successful people.  He was always about building people, not businesses. Spencer was most proud of seeing people grow and succeed in their careers and lives. He was a one of a kind, we’ll all miss him.”

Jim Brubaker, COO of Individualized Shirts, puts it this way: “Spencer Hays was a giant in our industry and in the lives of those who worked with him. He is known for saving factories and jobs but after 33 years of working with him, I believe his highest accomplishment was giving others encouragement, vision and the opportunity to succeed. His optimism never flagged; his smile and good cheer never wavered. Today there are over 400 employee stockholders of our company because of Spencer’s guidance and his belief in employee ownership. Spencer’s example and leadership has made me a better person in many ways. At the age of 19 I sat with other college students and heard Spencer say that if we worked hard, had good self-talk, and believed in ourselves, we would be successful. I believed him and he was right. His passing leaves a void in my life and I will miss him greatly, but his spirit is alive and well within the Tom James family.”

Peerless USA president Ronald Wurtzburger liked and admired Hays. “Nobody gave Spencer anything: he made it all on his own and his success is a great story. He took the direct-to-consumer concept and perfected it. He was so smart and so gifted, with a vast vocabulary. He loved art and had a fabulous collection. Plus he was the most distinguished man in our industry, always looking perfect in his flannel-stripe vested suits, always wearing a hat. He was a special person who I grew fonder of over the years. I will truly miss him.”

Says Karen Alberg, editor in chief of MR magazine, “I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Hays (and meeting his lovely wife Marlene) in his Manhattan home this past summer. We shared a glass of wine and he took me through his amazing art collection before discussing his business strategy and his empowering philosophy of life. I found him to be wonderfully warm, gracious, open, totally unpretentious and incredibly wise. What impressed me most was not that he started as a door-to-door Bible salesman who grew Tom James into a $500 million international business (with a goal to reach $1 billion in sales in the next five years) but that the core values he established 50 years ago are stronger than ever today. ‘Tie yourself to principles, not people,’ he told me. ‘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.’”

Spencer Hays has moved on but his spirit continues to inspire all those who knew him. In addition to his wife Marlene, he is survived by two daughters, Julie and Mary Alice, six grandchildren and many admirers.

Services will take place on Tuesday, March 7 at 1:00 pm Central Time at First Presbyterian Church, located at 4815 Franklin Pike in Nashville, Tennessee. A reception will follow the service at The Frist Center for Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in Nashville. Live Stream the service at:


  1. Just as with Tom James Spencer was the same for every company he owned. I worked for him during my 40 year career with Southwestern & served on The BOD for several of those years. He was consistent because of his guiding principles & did not apologize for the fact that companies are in business to make a profit.

    Because of the opportunity Spencer provided for me as well as his vision in setting up a profit sharing plan and stock ownership purchase plan I retired after 40 years with a nice nest egg. Thank you Spencer Hayes!

  2. I was hired by Spencer to sell books door-to-door with the Southwestern Company in April of 1963. After working with him in the book business for 5 years we started The Tom James Custom Apparel Company.
    We opened the Atlanta location together in the Fall of 1967. I was privileged to have helped build Tom James Clothing for 41 years. I retired in 2008.
    Spencer Hays was my leader and mentor for 46 years. He made a tremendous positive impact on me and my family. He will be greatly missed.

  3. Spencer Hayes created not only a $500,000,000 company but spawned an entire industry in the custom clothing segment. There are so many sellers, factories, mills, dot coms, retailers and more who have benefitted, imitated but never duplicated his success and legacy.
    Thank you Spencer!

    Michael Smith
    The Custom Shop Clothiers

  4. Spencer Hays
    Was a great man and a faboulous friend. I send my condolences to Marlene and his entire family. I saw Spencer and Marlene in the South of France two years ago and we had a splendid lunch at the Hotel du Cap he looked great. He will be sorely missed by the Men’s Industy a true Icon.

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