NEW YORK — Limited Brands has created an "office of the chief executive," giving its number-two executive, Leonard Schlesinger, greater responsibilities while freeing up chairman and chief executive Leslie H. Wexner to focus more on branding and top-line strategies.

Schlesinger adds the title of vice chairman and retains his position as chief operating officer.

Wexner’s primary focus is on Limited Design Services, marketing, brand and business planning, with all the division chiefs reporting to him. The 4,000-unit Limited Brands operates Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Express, Limited Stores, White Barn Candle Co., Henri Bendel and Structure, which is being converted to Express Men’s.

Such functions as finance, real estate, store design and construction report into the office of the chief executive, meaning that Wexner still has ultimate oversight of these departments but Schlesinger will take care of the operational and financial areas on a day-to-day basis.

Sources close to the company cautioned that this is not necessarily a succession strategy, since Wexner is said to firmly believe a merchant should be at the helm. In addition, Wexner, who is 65, has given no indications that he is close to retirement.

Other top executives at Limited Brands include V. Ann Hailey, chief financial officer; Ed Razek, chief marketing officer; Marie Holman-Rao, head of Design Services, and such divisional ceo’s as Michael Weiss, Express; Grace Nichols, Victoria’s Secret Stores; Jeff Sherman, Limited Stores, and Robin Burns, Intimate Beauty Corp.

Schlesinger, 50, while considered a strong leader, is more of an academic and operations executive, though he has been active in building up the human resource program at Limited Brands and communicating the company mission.

He joined Limited Brands in October 1999 as executive vice president of organization, leadership and human resources and was promoted to chief operating officer in February 2001. Prior to Limited, he served as senior vice president, counselor to the president and professor of sociology and public policy at Brown University from 1998 to 1999. Before that, he was the George F. Baker Jr. professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School and a member of the Harvard Business School faculty from 1978 to 1985 and again from 1988 to 1998.Outside the world of academia, he was executive vice president and chief operating Officer of Au Bon Pain, the French café chain, from 1985 to 1988. He also is a director of Limited Brands, and has been a director at other companies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in American civilization from Brown University, an MBA from Columbia University and a doctorate in organizational behavior from Harvard Business School.

"The creation of the office of the chief executive will allow me to increase my focus on top-line generating activities by turning over a collection of operational activities to Len," Wexner said in a statement. "In doing so, I believe we will improve the flow of strategic and operational information across the enterprise, while at the same time, ensure comprehensive coverage of organizational issues and tighter integration of strategic, operational and financial activities."

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