Leslie Wexner, the founder of Columbus, Ohio-based retailer L Brands, Inc. officially stepped down from his role as CEO and chairman at the company’s annual shareholders meeting on Thursday, where discussions also focused on future plans for Victoria’s Secret and the group’s executive reshuffle.
As of today, I will be stepping down as CEO and chairman,” Wexner said at the meeting, which was held virtually due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “The handoff, the baton is passed cooperatively and completely.”
First announced at the beginning of this year, the executive’s departure from the company he founded over 40 years ago comes on the heels of the announcement that a $525 million deal that would have seen private equity firm Sycamore Partners acquire a majority stake in L Brands’ struggling Victoria’s Secret lingerie brand has fallen through.
The plan is now for the group’s successful Bath & Body Works brand will be spun off as a separate publicly traded company.
In light of the termination of the deal with Sycamore Partners, Stuart Burgoerfer, EVP, CFO and interim CEO of Victoria’s Secret, highlighted two main priorities for the brand, which is not currently seeking a new partner.
“The first is to strengthen and improve the business itself,” he said. “The second thing we’re focused on is establishing Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company. So job one, improve the business; job two, establish it as a stand-alone company.”
Struggling to stay relevant in a rapidly changing intimates industry, while also contending with allegations of sexual misconduct at the company and the fallout from Wexner’s connections to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Victora’s Secret was pushing forward with a comprehensive transformation when the Sycamore Partners deal was announced earlier this year.
On Thursday, Wexner commended the brand’s team’s efforts to ensure that it will be in “the best possible position” after the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting improvements made in “the quality of fashion and the quantity of inventory,” as well as marketing and merchandise mix.
With Wexner’s departure, Bath & Body Works CEO Andrew Meslow has been appointed as a member of the L Brands board of directors and is also taking over as CEO of the group, while Sarah Nash will become chairwoman of the board.
Having served as COO of Bath & Body Works since July 2012, Meslow was promoted to CEO of the brand earlier this year. CEO and chairwoman of silicone-based product maker Novagard Solutions, Nash first joined L Brands’ board in May 2019.
Like many of its industry peers, L Brands has suffered from the disruptions caused by the coronavirus crisis. With its stores closed since March, the company has implemented furloughs and executive pay cuts, and reduced shareholder dividends and capital spending.
The retailer has also suspended rent payments and drawn down on its revolving credit facility.