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23. Ohio : Les Wexner

les wexner

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Victoria’s Secret boss Les Wexner has been a giant of the retail world for the last half century. Over the years he has built up some of the most famous brands in the American mall, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Lane Bryant, Limited Too and Express. The son of a small store owner who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, Wexner watched his father work long hours for little reward and decided he never wanted to go into retail. But law school didn’t interest him, so he dropped out and started helping out around his dad’s store. A father-son argument led him to open his own store, which he named the Limited for the narrow selection of items he sold. Wexner paid $1 million to buy Victoria’s Secret in 1982 when it was a nearly-bankrupt chain of six shops.

Although he sold most of his early retail concepts, he still runs the lingerie giant, which now it has more than 1,000 stores across the country and is quickly expanding abroad, opening up wholly-owned stores in England and franchised locations in the Middle East and Asia. Wexner still lives in Columbus and is deeply committed to his hometown. He started a weekly lunch with a handful of other business leaders in town that evolved into the Columbus Partnership, founded in 2002. The CEO-only organization now includes the top executive of nearly every major player in the Columbus economy.

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