Forty years ago, Leslie H. Wexner, always an avid reader, made the decision to eschew fiction in favor of history and biographies because, in his view, reality was much more compelling than make-believe. Yet Wexner’s personal tale is the stuff that dreams are made of. In 1963, Wexner borrowed $5,000 from his aunt to start The Limited, a clothing store geared towards young women. First-year sales soared to $160,000. Just six years later, Wexner took the company public, with shares of The Limited offered at $7.25. Today, the stock trades in the mid-60s range, and Wexner’s company, L Brands Inc., has evolved into a $10 billion retail powerhouse in the personal care and lingerie segments through its superstar formats: Bath and Body Works and Victoria’s Secret, as well as Pink, Henri Bendel and La Senza. The 76-year-old self-made billionaire is the longest-serving chief executive of a Fortune 500 company, and he remains as vitally involved in the business today as when he founded the company 50 years ago. He’s also as outspoken as ever—most recently sparking a fierce industry-wide debate when he proclaimed department stores irrelevant.
Whether or not you agree with Wexner on that particular point, his impact on beauty and retailing is undisputed. And for a year that saw so much activity in the retail arena, we could think of no more-fitting honoree for WWD Beauty Inc’s 2013 Visionary of the Year award. Wexner recently sat down for a rare—and revealing—in-depth interview with WWD’s executive editor of beauty, Pete Born.
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