Les Wexner steps away from board of Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands

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Les Wexner is finally cutting ties for good with his decades-old retail empire, which currently controls the Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works chains.

The 83-year-old billionaire retail icon — whose business ties to the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein have long stirred controversy — said he and his wife Abigail will not stand for reelection to the board of L Brands at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May. 

Wexner became a retail legend in the 1980s for building The Limited into a mall-based powerhouse, then creating and spinning off other successful chains including Abercrombie & Fitch. He had remained on the board after retiring as chief executive of the Columbus, Ohio-based company last year.

Two independent female directors have been appointed to replace Wexner and his wife on the board: Danielle Lee, chief fan officer for the National Basketball Association; and Francis Hondal, president of loyalty and engagement at Mastercard.

“I am more confident than ever that we have very positive momentum as we approach the planned separation into two businesses. Now is an ideal time for Abigail’s and my transition from the Board,” Wexner said in a statement.

Just two years ago, activist investor Barrington Capital had criticized the lack of diversity on the board and Wexner’s cozy ties to several directors. Barrington had griped that several board members were local business moguls in Ohio, and that three of the 12 members had sat on the board for more than three decades. The median age of the directors at the time was 71.

In a March 2019 letter to Wexner, Barrington said, “a majority of these directors have strong ties to you and your wife (and to each other)”.

L Brands is in the process of looking for a buyer for Victoria’s Secret, which after years of struggle has seen its value surge during the pandemic. L Brands is looking to separate the lingerie giant from Bath & Body Works chain, which meanwhile has been growing by leaps and bounds.

Wexner’s “thoughtful approach to developing brands and building dedicated and talented teams have enabled L Brands to evolve and succeed as a leading speciality retailer for nearly 60 years,” chairman Sarah Nash said in a statement.

Nash joined the board in 2019 and was named chairman a year ago on March 12.

“We are so excited to move forward with the company’s next chapter and our plans to create two businesses in the future,” Nash said.

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