Leslie Wexner’s L Brands company is selling its controlling stake in Victoria’s Secret to private equity firm Sycamore Partners for $525 million, having failed to turn around what was once a lingerie behemoth.
The turnaround effort had been led by Wexner, a retail legend whose decision to part ways with Victoria’s Secret, The Wall Street Journal said, “is an admission that the 82-year-old billionaire couldn’t revive the fortunes of a troubled lingerie brand he had built around shopping malls and sex appeal.”
L Brands also said Thursday that Wexner will step down from his role as chairman and CEO of the company, which also owns Bath & Body Works.
Fast Company called it “an ugly end to a long, largely successful career as a master retailer,” noting that Wexner “helped to shape the American shopping mall.”
The deal values Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion but investors had expected the brand would fetch a better price that would help pay down L Brands’ $5.5 billion debt more quickly. In trading Thursday, L Brands shares fell 4.8% to $23.42.
“A partial sale and this low price won’t help the company’s massive debt load and shows just how desperate LB has become to try to unload VS,” Randal J. Konik, a retail analyst at Jefferies, wrote in a client note.
As the WSJ reports, Victoria’s Secret, which Wexner bought for a pittance in 1982, was “one of his biggest successes,” generating $7 billion in annual sales as it grew from a handful of stores to dominate the lingerie market.
But sales peaked in 2016 and, according to Fortune, Wexner “proved out of sync with the times and with women’s growing focus on comfort, rather than a man’s approval, when it came to buying bras and panties.”
Sycamore, which purchased The Limited from Wexner in 2017, has a history of buying distressed brands and flipping them after cutting costs. The firm “will have its hands full trying to fix Victoria’s Secret,” Fortune said, adding that “with customers walking away in droves, it’s not clear how Victoria’s Secret can regain [its] aura.”
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