Analysts warn that L Brands’ former CEO Les Wexner is a still a ‘problem’ for Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works

L Brands' former longtime CEO Les Wexner.

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L Brands’ former longtime CEO Les Wexner.
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Getty/Astrid Stawiarz / Stringer
  • Wexner stepped down as CEO of L Brands earlier this month and will take up the role of chairman emeritus on the board, which is an honorary position.
  • In a note to clients on Thursday, a group of Jefferies analysts shared a gloomier outlook for L Brands and cautioned that the company may never really be out Wexner’s grip.
  • “Will Les Wexner really be away?” the Jefferies analysts asked. “We don’t think so, and it will likely be a problem for the business [L Brands] and Bath & Body Works.”
  • Wexner is still L Brands’ biggest shareholder and along with his wife owns a 17% stake in the company.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Les Wexner stepped down from the retail company he founded nearly six decades ago earlier this month, giving up his duties as CEO to become chairman emeritus. He was the longest-standing CEO of any Fortune 500 company up until this moment.

His stepping down was timed with news that L Brands is splitting itself up – selling a 55% stake in Victoria’s Secret to take the company private and running Bath & Body Works separately under new L Brands management.

The news of the leadership shakeup was celebrated by analysts – Camilla Yanushevsky, an equity analyst at CFRA Research, wrote in a note to clients earlier this month that it was “long overdue,” as was the deal to sell 55% of Victoria’s Secret to private equity firm Sycamore Partners.

It “gives Victoria’s Secret a chance to reassess and rebuild,” wrote Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, in a note to clients last week. He added that the Sycamore will “bring new thinking and ultimately a new positioning for the brand.”

But a group of Jefferies analysts shared a much gloomier outlook for the brand and cautioned that L Brands may never really be out Wexner’s grip – and in their opinion, that’s a cause for real concern.

“Will Les Wexner really be away?” the Jefferies analysts asked. “We don’t think so, and it will likely be a problem for the business [L Brands] and Bath & Body Works.”

Wexner’s tight grip

In previous conversations with Business Insider, former longtime executives at Victoria’s Secret’s corporate offices said that Wexner and his former right-hand-man, Ed Razek, held tight a grip of the brand for several decades, making it difficult for other company leaders enact real change.

A former employee who worked in a senior management role at Victoria’s Secret for over a decade and later laid off told Business Insider that Wexner and Razek had an “unshakable point of view as to how that brand should be projected” and didn’t want it to change.

“There was an understanding that Les Wexner was the founder and it is his company; he is the biggest shareholder,” another former longtime executive told Business Insider. “I think that is why there is new leadership every three years because people are hopeful that they have more of a say than they do.”

These executives wished to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly about their time there; their identities were verified by Business Insider.

Wexner’s exact involvement in the company moving forward remains to be seen.

While his new role as chairman emeritus is an honorary position, it means that he will still be on the board of directors. A spokesperson for L Brands did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on exactly what control he will still wield.

Regardless, Wexner will continue to be L Brands’ biggest shareholder – along with his wife, the couple has a 17% stake in the company – so his presence will continue to be felt.

“He still on board and he will still go to work,” Jefferies analyst Randal Konik wrote in an email to Business Insider on Thursday. “He is Les Wexner,” he added, “he always will have a say.”