Les Wexner speaks during a Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 31 at the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital. Credit: Kevin Stankiewicz | Former Editor-in-Chief

Leslie Wexner, Ohio State donor, alumnus and namesake of the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State, will step down as chairman and CEO of L Brands, a company of which he has been at the helm for 57 years.

L Brands partially sold its lingerie and swimwear brand, Victoria’s Secret, to Sycamore Partners, a private equity firm known for buying retail companies to improve their profitability, according to a Thursday L Brands press release. The purchase would separate the more profitable Bath & Body Works, another L Brands chain, from Victoria’s Secret, according to the release.

“We believe the separation of Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Victoria’s Secret Beauty and PINK into a privately held company provides the best path to restoring these businesses to their historic levels of profitability and growth,” Wexner said in the release.

Sycamore Partners purchased a 55-percent share of Victoria’s Secret for $525 million, according to the release. L Brands will keep a 45-percent share. The purchase will turn Victoria’s Secret from a publicly traded company to a private company.

“We are pleased that, by retaining a significant ownership stake, our shareholders will have the ability to meaningfully participate in the upside potential of these iconic brands,” Wexner said in the release.

Wexner, who was the longest-serving CEO of an S&P 500 company, said in the release that the purchase would allow Bath & Body Works “to continue to achieve strong growth and receive its appropriate market valuation.”

Victoria’s Secret has recently been called out of touch and canceled its 2019 fashion show in an effort to evolve its marketing, according to news reports. Reports say that in an internal memo, Wexner said ratings for the show had declined in recent years, which came amid criticism the brand faced for its lack of body and gender identity diversity.

Andrew Meslow, current chief operating officer of Bath & Body Works, has been promoted to CEO of Bath & Body Works and will become CEO of L Brands at the close of the transaction. 

In the past year, Wexner has faced scrutiny for his ties to the late financier and convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein. 

Wexner detailed his relationship with Epstein, which included the fact that Epstein managed Wexner’s personal finances, in a letter to the Wexner Foundation community posted on the foundation’s website Aug. 8.

Wexner said in the letter that he severed ties with Epstein in 2007 after allegations against Epstein came to light. In the process, Wexner said he discovered that Epstein had misappropriated “vast sums of money.”

“I know now that my trust in him was grossly misplaced and I deeply regret having ever crossed his path,” Wexner said in the letter.

L Brands hired outside counsel in July 2019 to examine Epstein’s involvement with the company, according to several news reports. The company has not released the details of the investigation yet.

Wexner has been a prolific donor to the university.

In February 2011, the Wexner family and the L Brands Foundation pledged $100 million to the medical center — the largest gift in university history. Wexner and his wife, Abigail, pledged $65 million, and the foundation pledged $35 million, according to previous Lantern reporting. 

The medical center was renamed to the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State in 2012 after a unanimous vote from the Board of Trustees, according to previous Lantern reporting.

Wexner also pledged $25 million in the late 1980s to help build the Wexner Center for the Arts, which includes a gallery space and the Mershon Auditorium and was named after his father, according to several news reports.