Leslie Wexner has grabbed the wheel at Victoria’s Secret.
The L Brands Inc. chairman and chief executive officer is assuming leadership of the $7.7 billion business following the resignation of its ceo, Sharen Turney.
That puts one of the few active retail legends in direct control over one of fashion’s most dominant chains, which combines retail might with supermodel-fueled social media sizzle. The switch also deepens the very shallow pool of fashion executives with the proven ability to grow multibillion businesses who are even theoretically on the market.
“After 16 years and a record fourth quarter at Victoria’s Secret, I have decided to prioritize my family and my personal life and consider what’s next for me professionally….I leave the Victoria’s Secret business well-positioned for the next chapter of growth…a strong brand with great momentum,” Turney said.
Wexner said: “We are very grateful to Sharen for her leadership and all that she has accomplished; Victoria’s Secret sales have increased more than 70 percent…and profit has increased substantially during her nine years as ceo. While she will be missed, we support her in her choice and wish her well. We have strong confidence in the strength of the brand and our growth opportunities, and I look forward to taking on a more active role and working with the talented leadership team at Victoria’s Secret.”
Turney, 58, is one of fashion’s highest paid executives. Her compensation for the years 2012 to 2014 totaled $44.3 million, although $26.5 million of that came in the form of stock awards, the full value of which might not be realized.
Investors on Friday were wary of the move and pushed shares of L Brands down 2.5 percent to $81.87.
But the industry has a great store of respect for Wexner.
Elaine Hughes, founder and ceo of executive search firm E.A. Hughes & Co., said: “He’s like the Warren Buffett of our industry. He really understands the business. He understands the consumer. He might be getting ready to promote from within, but I think he needs to take the helm of that business to determine who is going to succeed in that role. With today’s candidate pool, it would not be very easy to look out into the general market and find who’s going to replace her in that size of a business.”
She noted that Wexner’s move is not unlike executive chairman Jay Schottenstein’s at American Eagle Outfitters Inc., where he stepped back in to become interim ceo in 2014 and take more direct control of the business. The post was made permanent in December.
Wexner certainly is comfortable in charge.
He founded The Limited in 1963 in Columbus, Ohio, and acquired the six-door Victoria’s Secret for $1 million in 1982, building it into a powerhouse.
Although Wexner started in apparel, he sensed a change in the market by 2007 had exited most of the company’s apparel businesses. L Brands still has a significant presence in beauty with Bath & Body Works.
After receiving the WWD Beauty Inc Visionary Award in 2013, Wexner said he views himself as a merchant above all else.
“I’m really a retailer,” he said. “I’ve spent most of my life as a fashion retailer….By nature, I am very curious.”
He’s also known for speaking his mind, for instance, calling department stores “irrelevant” at an investor meeting.
How that mixture of experience and personality shapes the next leg of Victoria’s Secret is anybody’s guess.