CEO of the Year: Large For-Profit

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

The story of how Leslie H. Wexner started The Limited with a $5,000 loan and ended up one of the world's richest people has been well-documented. But to brand Les Wexner as simply an entrepreneur is to pigeonhole him in a category that's far too narrow to reflect the breadth of his accomplishments.

He's been a developer--guiding the evolution of New Albany, then Easton. He's a Titan, helping to shape the region's civic and economic development agenda as chairman of The Columbus Partnership.

As chairman of the Ohio State University Board of Trustees, he's part educator and part cheerleader, and he helped bring E. Gordon Gee back to Columbus.

Wexner is also a philanthropist, giving time and money to numerous causes. He and his wife, Abigail, annually host the New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix at their home to raise money for the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence, which Abigail founded in 1998. Wexner made OSU history earlier this year with an unprecedented $100 million gift.

Wexner agreed to answer a series of questions about his company's evolution over the years, leadership, and the highs and lows of running Limited Brands. Here's what he had to say.

How does Limited Brands today compare to your original vision for The Limited? When I started that single store in Kingsdale in 1963, I can't say I had a vision beyond hoping to make a living with that one store. As that store began to grow, I realized there was bigger growth potential. I probably never spent much time thinking about how big it could get, but rather getting it right today--short-term thinking ... if there was one store, could there be two? If two were successful, could there be three ...? One step at a time.

How do you define success? For the business, the most basic level of success is growth and profitability. Is your business profitable? You have to look at that primary measure ... if you have growth and profitability, your customers must be satisfied.

What is the most important quality for a CEO to possess? Recognize the importance of your leadership and the risks and responsibility the leader has.

What is the best part of your job? The people I work with--neat people; fun.

What's the worst? People who disappoint--not in performance ... I can handle that--but in values and ethics are the most disappointing.

What role do employees play in your success? Our 100,000 associates around the world are responsible for our success. They are great, curious, nimble and they know that our customer is our boss.

If you could do it all over again, what--if anything--would you change? Not much ... there are a few "errors" I wish I hadn't made.

What are your goals for Limited Brands in the next 10 years? I see tremendous growth opportunities ... I believe we can double our sales in the next five years in North America and we have significant international expansion under way that we're just getting started on ... all while building our organization--developing future leaders for the business and our community.

Reprinted from the December 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.