Legendary retailer Les Wexner reportedly in talks to step aside

Marianne Wilson
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Victoria’s Secret

The founder and chief executive of L Brands — the longest-serving CEO of an S&P 500 company — may be stepping down from his post — and selling Victoria’s Secret.

Lex Wexner, a pioneer of mall-based specialty store retailing, is in discussions to step down as CEO of L Brands, parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which also said that Wexner is exploring options for the ailing lingerie brand, including a full or partial sale. Wexner, L Brands’ largest shareholder with a 16% stake, could stay on as company chairman, according to the report. 

Wexner, 82, is coming off a hard year. Last summer, he came under intense scrutiny for his association with disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who reportedly managed Wexner’s personal finances and served as trustee of his charitable foundation. (Wexner, who has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing, cut his ties with Epstein more than a decade ago.)

On the business side, falling revenue at Victoria’s Secret has continued to take a toll on L Brands’ performance. The brand’s same-store sales fell 7% in its third quarter, compared to a 2% decrease in the year-ago period. Victoria’s Secret has struggled to find its footing as consumers increasingly opt for lingerie brands that emphasize comfort, inclusion, and diversity, such as ThirdLove, Lively and American Eagle’s Aerie. 

Wexner opened his first store, The Limited, in 1963, in Kingsdale Mall, in Upper Arlington, Ohio. From that one store, he went on to grow a sprawling retail empire. Wexner bought Victoria's Secret for $1 million in 1982. At the time, the company, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, operated six lingerie shops in San Francisco. He has been CEO of the brand ever since.