Wexner in 2004
Leslie Herbert Wexner
September 8, 1937
|Other names||"The Merlin of the Mall"|
|Alma mater||Ohio State University 1959|
|Occupation||Chairman Emeritus of L Brands|
|Known for||Founder of The Limited, former owner of Victoria's Secret|
|Net worth||US$4.0 billion (March 2020)|
|Political party||Republican (before 2018)|
Independent (since 2018)
|Spouse(s)||Abigail S. Wexner (m. 1993)|
Leslie Herbert Wexner (born September 8, 1937) is an American billionaire businessman, the founder and chairman emeritus of L Brands (formerly Limited Brands). Wexner grew a business empire after starting The Limited, a clothing retailer with a restricted selection of profitable items, and later expanded his holdings to include Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie and Fitch, Express, and Bath & Body Works. Wexner announced the sale of a majority stake in Victoria's Secret to Sycamore Partners, and stepped down as CEO of L Brands in February 2020.
Wexner is mainly known for his close, multi-decade relationship with human-trafficker and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. The Miami Herald reported on June 23, 2020, that Howard Cooper, an attorney for Alan Dershowitz, admitted in court the possession of court filings and depositions of a woman who testified that she, along with others, was "trafficked" to Wexner.
Early life and education
Leslie Wexner was born in Dayton, Ohio on September 8, 1937, to parents Bella (née Cabakoff 1908–2001) and Harry Louis Wexner (1899–1975). His parents were both of Russian-Jewish origin. His father was born in Russia. His mother, a first generation American, was born in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and moved to Columbus, Ohio as a toddler. He has a younger sister, Susan. His parents paid tuition for Wexner to attend high school in the wealthy enclave of Bexley. He attended Ohio State University, and although he had expressed an interest in architecture he graduated in 1959 with a major in business administration. While at Ohio State University, he became a member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. Wexner served in the Air National Guard. He briefly attended the Moritz College of Law.
Wexner began his retail career working in his parents' clothing store "Leslie's", which had been named in his honor. After he decided to leave law school, his parents asked him to take care of the store when they went on their first vacation in 10 years. While they were away on vacation he analyzed the profit and loss margins on the women's clothing they sold. He found that although higher-priced clothing (e.g. jackets) had a higher margin per item, they sold less frequently than blouses and were therefore less profitable as a line. When he told his father this, his father was uninterested in changing his inventory.
In 1963, Wexner was lent $5,000 from his aunt Ida which was then matched by a bank in order to start The Limited. The store took its name due to its limited focus on moderately priced merchandise such as skirts, sweaters and shirts that turned over quickly and generated greater revenues. Wexner opened the first store on August 10, 1963 in the Kingsdale Shopping Center in Upper Arlington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. One year later, Wexner's parents closed their store and joined their son in running The Limited. He opened the second Limited store in August 1964. He took Limited Brands public in 1969, listed as LTD on the NYSE.
Wexner expanded the Limited considerably in the 1970s, having opened the 100th store in 1976. He took on significant debt in 1978 to purchase the importer and manufacturer Mast Industries, which later was regarded to have provided him with essential business advantages over competitors.
In the 1980s, Wexner doubled his retail holdings by purchasing a number of companies and became known as a major retail owner at malls in America.
In 1982, Wexner acquired the lingerie business Victoria's Secret. Started as an MBA project by Stanford graduate Roy Raymond, Victoria's Secret attracted Wexner's interest due to the unique, high quality merchandise and Victorian-era decor of the shop which featured red-velvet sofas. Wexner described Raymond as "very guarded" stating "When I met him, it was as if he met the devil." Six months later, when Raymond was facing bankruptcy, he contacted Wexner and offered to sell Victoria's Secret. Wexner bought the company for $1m and by the 1990s it was worth an estimated $1bn. After Wexner assumed ownership, Victoria's Secret became widely known for marketing its items with the use of super models known as "angels" which were featured in an annual fashion show, overseen by Ed Razek. By 2015 sales were in decline and 2018 proved to be the final year for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.
Over the years, Wexner built a retailing and marketing conglomerate that included Victoria's Secret, Pink (Victoria's Secret for teens), Bath & Body Works, Henri Bendel, The White Barn Candle Company, and La Senza. Previous brands that were spun off include: Lane Bryant, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lerner New York, The Limited Too (now Tween Brands, Inc.), Structure 9, Aura Science, The Limited (which closed its brick-and-mortar stores while retaining its online presence), and Express (which closed its Canadian stores and hundreds of its US-based stores).
In 2012, CNN Money described Wexner as the longest serving CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He was on Harvard Business Review’s Top 100 Best Performing CEOs, ranked #11 in 2015, and #34 in 2016.
Jeffrey Epstein association
Wexner had a close relationship with Jeffrey Epstein that began in the 1980s and continued until at least 2007. He was the primary billionaire client of Epstein, a financier that claimed to only work with clients with a net worth of one billion USD. Epstein became Wexner's financial manager in 1987. Wexner purchased the New York property, the Herbert N. Straus House, in 1989 and later transferred it to Epstein in the mid-1990s following his marriage to Abigail. In July of 1991, Wexner granted Epstein power of attorney and also instated him as a trustee on the board of the Wexner Foundation.
Wexner has been accused of failing to take action when complaints were raised against Epstein, including after executives of L Brands reported (in the mid-1990s) that Epstein was abusing his power and connection to Wexner by posing as a recruiter of Victoria's Secret models. The artist Maria Farmer contacted local and federal authorities about an assault she allegedly endured by Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell while working as an artist-in-residence on Wexner's Ohio property in 1996. Within a year of Farmer's complaint, the actress Alicia Arden filed a police report in Los Angeles detailing that Epstein had misrepresented himself as a recruiter for Victoria's Secret prior to another alleged assault.
In early 2006, Epstein was charged in Florida with "multiple counts of molestation and unlawful sexual activity with a minor." The New York Times reported that it was 18 months after the charges were raised that Wexner cut his ties to Epstein.
In August 2019, following Epstein's second incarceration and prior to his death, Wexner addressed the Wexner Foundation in writing, releasing a statement that his former financial advisor, Jeffrey Epstein, had “misappropriated vast sums of money” from him and from his family. Wexner retained services of criminal defense attorney Mary Jo White of Debevoise & Plimpton. Wexner faced additional public scrutiny in late 2019 (and again in early 2020) when a group of wrestlers who are survivors of the Ohio State University abuse scandal publicly called on state and federal officials to conduct further inquiry into Maria Farmer's allegations of sexual assault at the Wexner property. The wrestlers called for accountability surrounding the Wexner family's involvement in Epstein's abuse and raised the issue of the continuing influence of Abigail and Leslie Wexner serving as the "biggest and best-known benefactors" of the university.
In 1989, Wexner and his mother Bella were the first to make a $1 million personal donation to the United Way. Both of their names were inscribed in marble, and are on display in the lobby of the United Way Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.
Wexner was listed by Forbes in 2017, the wealthiest of seven billionaires from Ohio who made the list. He was a major funder of the Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University, which is named in honor of his father.
Wexner explained that because "growing up, my folks moved around a lot, and I never got a good Jewish education", he felt unprepared to take leadership roles in the Jewish community. So, in 1985 he joined Rabbi Herbert A. Friedman to establish the Wexner Foundation's first core program, aimed "to educate Jewish communal leaders in the history, thought, traditions and contemporary challenges of the Jewish people."
In 1991, Wexner formed with billionaire Charles Bronfman the Study Group, which is more widely known as the Mega Group. The group was a loosely organized club of some of the country's wealthiest and most influential businessmen who were concerned with Jewish issues. Max Fischer, Michael Steinhardt, Leonard Abramson, Edgar Bronfman, and Laurence Tisch were some of the members. The group would meet twice a year for two days of seminars related to the topic of philanthropy and Jewishness. In 1998, Steven Spielberg spoke about his personal religious journey, and later the group discussed Jewish summer camps. The group, which Wexner co-chaired with Charles Bronfman, went on to inspire a number of philanthropic initiatives such as the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, Birthright Israel, and the upgrading of national Hillel.
Wexner served on the board of trustees of Ohio State University from 1988 to 1997. In December 2005, Wexner was appointed to his second term and was elected chairman in 2009. It was announced in June 2012 that Wexner's chairmanship was to end, eight years before his appointment would have ended.
On May 11, 2004, Wexner received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship at a dinner in Columbus, Ohio. The award was presented by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
On February 16, 2011, Wexner pledged a donation of $100 million to Ohio State, which will be allocated to the university’s academic Medical Center and James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, with additional gifts to the Wexner Center for the Arts and other areas. This latest gift is the largest in the university’s history.
Through the L Brands Foundation, Wexner and L Brands contributed $163.4 million to the Columbus Foundation.
On February 10, 2012, Ohio State University Medical Center officially changed its name to the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University commemorating "Mr. Wexner's indelible, lifelong legacy of leadership at Ohio State", according to university president E. Gordon Gee, during over 30 years of "ardent support" of the institution.
On January 23, 1993, Wexner, then 55 years of age, married Abigail S. Koppel, 31, an attorney, in a ceremony at their home in New Albany, Ohio. The couple have four children: Harry, Hannah, David, and Sarah.
Formerly of the Bexley area of Columbus, Ohio, Wexner now lives in New Albany, a community northeast of that city. He owns a 30-room, $47 million, Georgian-inspired estate, on nearly 336 acres (4 km²), that was built in 1990. The estate, was, for twenty years, the location of the Annual New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix & Family Day benefiting The Center for Family Safety and Healing. The Classic consistently drew the top professional show jumping riders because of its elaborate and well-maintained jumping course. In February 2018, Abigail Wexner announced the end of the event, citing the growing number of elite equestrian competitions.
As a pun on his name and his former residence in Bexley, the village of New Albany was known (unofficially) for some time as Wexley. Today, this Georgian-themed village inspires comparison to eighteenth century developments by wealthy aristocrats in England.
At the time of its construction in 1997, Wexner's Limitless was the largest American-owned private yacht, measuring 315 feet and 8 inches (96.25 meters) long and 41 feet (12.50 meters) wide. Few authorized images exist, but photographs of the yacht's interior appear in an October 2016 retrospective of the career of the yacht's interior designer, François Catroux, written by David Netto and published by Rizzoli. The Limitless is one of the largest privately owned yachts in use.
On February 10, 2012, The Ohio State University board of trustees voted to rename The Ohio State University Medical Center in honor of Wexner, in recognition of his leadership and service to the university and the medical center. Now the medical center is known as Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University.
Wexner hosted a fundraiser in 2012 for Mitt Romney and donated $250,000 to Restore Our Future, Romney's Super PAC. In 2015, Wexner donated $500,000 to the Right to Rise USA Super-Pac that supported the 2016 presidential campaign of Jeb Bush.
The Columbus Dispatch reported on September 14, 2018 that Wexner had renounced his affiliation with the Republican Party due to changes in its nature. Wexner made his comment shortly after former President Obama gave a speech on the same Columbus Partnership panel that Wexner addressed. He has been a political independent since 2018.
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- Porter, Tom, Republican billionaire, wealthiest donor in Ohio, quits 'nonsense' party of Trump, praises Obama, Newsweek, September 15, 2018
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