Wexner will remain as chairman of the Columbus Partnership.
Les Wexner will step down as CEO and board chairman of L Brands, the company he started in Upper Arlington in 1963, according to a statement released by the company this morning. The leadership transition is part of a deal to sell the struggling Victoria’s Secret lingerie brand, along with Pink, to Sycamore Partners, a private equity firm.
Under the terms of the deal, Sycamore will purchase a 55 percent interest in Victoria’s Secret for about $525 million, while L Brands will retain a 45 percent share in the company.
"We believe the separation of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Victoria’s Secret Beauty and Pink into a privately held company provides the best path to restoring these businesses to their historic levels of profitability and growth,” Wexner said in the statement. “Sycamore, which has deep experience in the retail industry and a superior track record of success, will bring a fresh perspective and greater focus to the business.”
Wexner, 82, will remain in his role as chair of the Columbus Partnership, says Partnership CEO Alex Fischer. Wexner has led the powerful civic group since its founding in 2002. “As a co-founder along with John F. Wolfe,” Fischer writes in a text message, “Les will have his same membership status moving forward with the partnership, which is consistent with how John F. [Wolfe] remained active with the partnership after his role changed with the Dispatch Printing Company. We are fortunate that both men had the vision and foresight to create an organization that is solely focused on building the best possible community through strong business leadership.”
Wexner has been under intense scrutiny of late as he faced questions about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, who was Wexner’s longtime financial adviser and who died in prison in August while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. Wexner also faced criticism from L Brands shareholders for allowing the lingerie juggernaut Victoria’s Secret to fall out of touch with consumer tastes and the cultural moment. The company’s sales and share of the lingerie market have been declining for three consecutive years.
In addition to stepping down as CEO, Wexner, 82, will also relinquish his role as chairman of the board of L Brands, but will remain as chairman emeritus.
In an email to employees Thursday, Wexner referenced his long history with the company he founded with a single store in the Kingsdale Shopping Center in 1963. “Today feels very similar to the day that my aunt offered me a new start,” he wrote, according to The New York Times. “Today is the beginning of an important new chapter in the evolution of the enterprise.”
L Brands, a publicly held company, will retain ownership of Bath & Body Works. That company’s chief operating officer, Andrew Meslow, will become CEO of L Brands and of Bath & Body Works, while Nick Coe, the former CEO of the brand, was named Vice Chairman of Bath & Body Works Brand Strategy and New Ventures.
Columbus CEO editor Katy Smith contributed to this story.