Indian-American CEO of Samsonite resigns after falsely claiming he had a PhD in business administration

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Ramesh Tainwala is stepping down as chief executive officer of Samsonite International. (Bloomberg photo by Jerome Favre)

The world’s largest luggage company announced its chief executive was resigning eight days after a report accused him of falsely claiming a Ph.D on his resume.

Ramesh Tainwala, Samonsite’s CEO since 2014, stepped down from his role on Friday citing personal reasons, according to a company news release. On May 24, the short-seller Blue Orca Capital published a report claiming Tainwala had long described himself as a doctor with a degree in business administration – despite never completing the program.

The Blue Orca report noted that a doctorate didn’t appear on Tainwala’s company bio. And Samsonite said that since the company’s initial public offering in 2011, it had always accurately described Tainwala’s educational background

But “the board also takes seriously the allegation that has been made about his academic credentials,” the company said. “In considering such resignation, the board thoroughly reviewed the facts related to this allegation and has determined that accepting Ramesh’s resignation is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.”

The Blue Orca report found that Tainwala’s degree in business administration from the Union Institute and University in Cincinnati had frequently been cited in online biographies and other documents, including in Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg databases. And in a 2011 earnings call, Samsonite introduced Tainwala as “Dr.”

But when the group called the school’s registrar, Blue Orca was told that Tainwala never earned a doctorate and instead only enrolled in a program from February 1992 to September 1993.

A separate credential check through the degree verification source, the National Student Clearinghouse, confirmed those enrollment dates and said Tainwala never attained the Ph.D.

Blue Orca describes itself as an “activist investment firm” led by Soren Aandahl, a former executive at Glaucus Research Group. The company, which launched in mid-May, did not respond to a request for comment on Tainwala’s resignation.

Last week, Tainwala told the Wall Street Journal that he “never claimed” to hold a doctoral degree but did enroll in a Ph.D. program in 1992. Tainwala told the Journal that friends and colleagues jokingly addressed him as “doctor” after he enrolled, even though he didn’t finish the degree.

Still, the Journal noted that Tainwala’s “Dr.” designation appeared in at least two regulatory filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission more than 10 years ago, as well as other regulatory documents in India.

Tainwala is not the first to leave an executive post over resume issues. In 2012, Scott Thompson, then Yahoo’s chief executive, resigned after saying he had a computer science degree – prompting an internet frenzy over “Resumegate.”

Tainwala will be succeeded by Kyle Gendreau, the company’s executive director since its corporation in March 2011, and its chief financial officer and an executive director of the consolidated group since January 2009.

Initially, Samsonite responded to the Blue Orca report by describing its allegations as “one-sided and misleading.” While the report called on the company’s board to look into Tainwala’s resume, it also targeted the company’s “questionable accounting practices and poor corporate governance.”

The report accused the luggage maker of hiding slowed growth through debt-fueled acquisitions and that it had “massaged earnings and inflated margins through highly questionable purchase price accounting.”

On Friday, the same day Samonsite announced Tainwala had resigned in a separate release, the company again disputed the financial claims made against Samonsite in the Blue Orca report. That release made no mention of Tainwala or charges that he had inflated parts of his educational background.

Still immediately after the report was published last month, Samsonite’s board chairman Timothy Parker warned shareholders that the report may have been intended to “undermine confidence in the company and its management, and to harm its reputation.”

He added, “I have full confidence in Ramesh’s capabilities as CEO, and in the broader management team.”