Leslie Wexner, founder and CEO of L Brands, is in talks to step down from his position after 57 years at the helm, according to the Wall Street Journal. If Wexner were to exit, he would be the latest CEO to do so amid slumping sales and controversy.
Wexner started out working in his parents’ clothing store. Then, from one small store in Columbus, Ohio, Wexner built a number of brands into household names and national chains, including Abercrombie & Fitch, The Limited, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. In the process, he has amassed a fortune Forbes pegs at $4.6 billion. Wexner has been in charge of his company since 1963 and took it public six years later. He’s a pioneer in clothing retail and the creator of much-loved specialty brands. Wexner is the company’s largest shareholder, owning about 17% of the company.
An unfortunate combination of events—some of which were self-inflicted—led to L Brand’s decline. The problems include remaining too attached to products and advertising that are perceived as tone-deaf by consumers. Victoria’s Secret, the flagship of L Brands, has seen its market share in the U.S. free fall in recent years, as it’s been accused of over-sexualized ads and promoting unrealistic body image. The brand, advertising and marketing epically failed to resonate with its core customers and turned off new business in the current #MeToo era.
In an internal memo, Wexner wrote, “Fashion is a business of change. We must evolve and change to grow.”
However, the company failed to move the needle in body positivity.
The lackluster performance of the brands, online competition, slumped share price and an apparent reluctance to change with the times caught the attention of an activist hedge fund that fought for changes at the board level.