NEW ALBANY, Ohio — The “fierce urgency of now” will consume the attention of Limited Brands Inc. this year as the specialty retailer continues to deal with the recession.

This story first appeared in the May 29, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In brief remarks at the company’s annual meeting here Thursday, Leslie H. Wexner, chairman and chief executive officer, said Limited had benefited from a decision early in 2008 to act conservatively.

“We recognized that a recession was probably going to happen,” Wexner said. “So we went into a defensive position…really getting buttoned up. We’ve executed that defensive strategy pretty well. We’re seeing we made progress.”

Last week Limited Brands, which operates Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, among other chains, reported a first-quarter profit of $2.6 million, or 1 cent a diluted share, down 97.3 percent from $97.8 million, or 28 cents, a year earlier. Revenues fell 10.4 percent to $1.73 billion.

Wexner eschewed any special insights about the recession. “We did not see the tsunami…the catastrophic events happening. We were not immune. No one was immune.

“It felt to me as a kind of elevator was free-falling,” Wexner said.

The uncertain economy will mean Limited Brands “remains conservative” in its outlook, he said. “Our forward look doesn’t go very far.…We don’t want to be too aggressive until we have a better lay of the land.”

Citing President Obama’s reference to Martin Luther King Jr.’s comment about “the fierce urgency of now,” he said, “we are in a very, very short cycle frame.”

“Eventually…there will be a brighter day,” Wexner said. “As far as the economy, I don’t know. None of us know. I think we’ll continue to get traction. We’re staying close to our customers.”

Asked about whether the firm’s board had discussed succession plans, the 71-year-old Wexner said, “Succession is an issue the board has always discussed,” but he did not reveal the content of those discussions. Wexner did say that there had been no discussions about splitting the dual role he now fills as chairman and ceo.

“The functioning of a board is very hard to legislate,” he said.