Les Wexner, the retail billionaire who has run L Brands for more than 50 years, is selling his controlling stake in Victoria’s Secret and stepping down from his roles as chairman and chief executive, although he will keep a seat on the company’s board.
“I’ve thought about where I fit in the picture,” Wexner wrote in an email, The Wall Street Journal reported. “In keeping with this same thoughtful examination, I have decided that now is the right time to pass the reins to new leadership.”
But who is Wexner?
Wexner’s ousting can be viewed as a combination of another casualty in the slow demise of the retail industry and a product of his close association with former financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was once his personal money manager.
Wexner is credited with starting specialty retail.
Wexner, from Columbus, Ohio, started his billion dollar retail empire with a $5,000 loan from his aunt. He opened The Limited, so named for focusing on selling a few items, in 1963, Forbes reported. He signed a lease for a second store before opening the first and quickly turned a profit.
He acquired Victoria’s Secret in 1982 for $1 million. He transformed the failing San Francisco company from a catalog seller with a few brick and mortar stores into a dominating force in the lingerie market with $7 billion in annual sales, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Wexner, 82, worked to keep ahead of shopping trends and had foreseen the fall of the department store, selling off such brands as Abercrombie & Fitch, The Limited and Express, The Wall Street Journal reported. In addition to Victoria’s Secret, L Brands now owns only retailer Bath & Body Works.
Wexner is also a philanthropist. He and his wife Abigail have donated millions of dollars to various causes, including the United Way, and to Ohio State University over the years.
Wexner was under intense scrutiny for having employed Epstein after the financier was indicted on federal sex-trafficking charges last summer. Epstein died in prison in August while awaiting trial.
Wexner sought to distance himself from Epstein, addressing their relationship at a September investor’s meeting, The New York Times reported.
The two met in the 1980s when Wexner was reorganizing his personal investments but Wexner had cut ties with Epstein more than a decade ago after Epstein was accused of inappropriate behavior with girls, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The board of L Brands launched an investigation into Epstein’s role with the company. The investigation is still active, The Times reported.
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