Les Wexner, the embattled former CEO and founder of L Brands, is selling some 30 million shares of the company he created nearly five decades ago for more than $2 billion (pretax), according to the company. The sale will further weaken his grip on the once-celebrated retail empire.
L Brands is repurchasing 10 million of the available shares, per the company, at a price of $73.01 per share, which amounts to $730 million for Wexner, before taxes. The remaining 20 million shares will be sold for $74.50 each, for nearly $1.5 billion pre-tax. Accounting for estimated capital gains taxes, Wexner and his wife, Abigail, will walk away with nearly $1.7 billion. After the sales, Wexner will hold less than 5 million L Brand shares—less than a 2% stake in the company he founded in 1963. Based on the stock price as of midday Friday, Forbes estimates Wexner will be worth $6.1 billion after the offering. L Brands confirmed in an email that the offering will close Monday.
This marks the third share sale Wexner has embarked on this year, further unwinding his ties to L Brands after he stepped down in February 2020 as CEO and chairman. The sales come after a wave of scrutiny into Wexner’s ties with Jeffrey Epstein, following Epstein’s 2019 arrest on sex trafficking charges centering around an alleged ring of underage girls. Epstein died by sucide in a Manhattan prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial.
Wexner has since sought to distance himself from Epstein and has claimed the disgraced financier misappropriated millions of his retail fortune. Wexner first hired Epstein as his financial advisor in 1987, and the two men’s relationship became so close that by 1991 Wexner had given Epstein his power of attorney. The New York City mansion that Epstein owned was first purchased by Wexner in the late 1980s and transferred to Epstein in the mid-1990s. Wexner wrote in an August 2019 letter to his charitable foundation that he ended his personal and professional relationship with Epstein in 2007, and has denied any knowledge or connection to Epstein’s alleged crimes. (Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida to a single underage prostitution charge in 2008 following an investigation by federal attorneys, in what some have criticized as a sweetheart deal.)
In addition to owning Bath & Body Works, L Brands owns women’s lingerie purveyor Victoria’s Secret. Reporting surfaced in 2020 alleging Epstein pretended to be a casting agent for Victoria’s Secret and preyed upon young women vying to be models for the ubiquitous brand. Even before the Epstein allegations, Victoria’s Secret’s business suffered as company leadership doubled down on its sex kitten vibe, made popular by its group of supermodel Angels that included Heidi Klum and Gisele Bündchen. More broadly, women’s lingerie had moved toward size inclusivity, diversity and designs that appealed strictly to women, rather than what men wanted to see women wear.
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Soon, however, L Brands will go the way of the dodo, as Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret are scheduled on August 2 to spin off into separate companies and L Brands will cease to exist. Victoria’s Secret is undergoing a massive rebranding effort, nixing the Angels in favor of role models like soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe and hiring an all-woman board, with the exception of new CEO Martin Waters.
Wexner founded L Brands in 1963 as women’s clothing store The Limited. At its height, the L Brands empire counted Henri Bendel, Abercrombie & Fitch and Lane Bryant among its stable of fashion retailers.