At Lululemon, sources close to the matter told CNBC that Wilson is evaluating his options for the athletic wear maker, after earlier this month voting against two board members over concerns "that the board is not aligned with the core values of product and innovation on which Lululemon was founded."
Asked for comment by CNBC, a Lululemon spokesperson said the company's board and management are focused on strengthening its product lines, expanding the company and building "value for Lululemon shareholders."
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At American Apparel, Charney is threatening to take action against his former employer, whose board voted to oust him from his roles as CEO and chairman over an investigation into alleged misconduct. Last year, at Men's Wearhouse the board terminated former CEO Zimmer from its board, stating he was not acting in the interest of shareholders.
Although each situation has its own nuances, experts said they often have a common root. One such commonality is that the companies in question often grow to such size that the "rebels" who founded them are no longer able to satisfy investors, said to Les Berglass, CEO of retail placement firm Berglass + Associates.
"These are people who are absolute visionaries who create innovative businesses," Berglass said. "They become victims of their own success."
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Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, said that although these power struggles are not restricted to the retail world—he pointed to Steve Jobs' ouster from Apple in 1985 as a non-retail example—often they perpetuate within the retail industry because many of its creative forces are "right-brained" people.
They need to be balanced out by the left-brained, numbers-oriented people to keep the business running on a day-to-day basis. That, he said requires a strong, independent board.
However, problems often rise when a business goes public, and the founder can no longer handpick a board that puts his or her vision ahead of the interest of shareholders—even when they own a large stake in the company, as Charney and Wilson do.
"That being said, these things don't happen when everything is going well," Johnson said. "When sales are up, profits are up, [the] stock is up, everybody's happy."