Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited, addressed an intimate audience of 50 or so after his auditorium award presentation to The Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs.
Part way into this intimate Q&A, albeit with with some mild frustration, Les stopped fielding questions and proclaimed, “As many look at my global chain of stores, corporate jet, power, wealth, I’ve sensed students today implying ‘How do I get where you’ve gotten and get what you have?’ and I must admit, I do not have the answers. I can’t tell you how to do it.”
He went on to say that he could tell us only that he followed his love for retail. From his first store in Columbus, Ohio, he loved putting the key in the door first thing in the morning and turning the lock. He loved putting the key in the door at the end of the night after sweeping and locking up. “I’m still the world’s best men’s sweater buyer,” he chuckled.
In all, he communicated that chasing the trappings of success had nothing to do with his path.
His focus was on his passion.
Les came from humble origins, with parents who weathered the depression and honored the security of postal work. So, when he received a call early in his career from a leading New York retail chain magnet, his father was in total disbelief of his son’s actions.
Apparently, this magnet invited Les to New York, all expenses paid, and offered him a staggering salary and wild perks like a penthouse apartment.
Les responded, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize this is why you brought me to New York. I’m not interested in a job,” and proceeded to leave. When he got off the elevator, he called his father and recounted the experience.
“Now you get right back up there and tell the man you’re sorry, of course you’ll take his offer,” suggested his father.
About a year later, Les felt compelled to call the magnet and inquire as to why he had been inspired to make such a generous offer in the first place.
“Well Les, you might be a terrific retailer, but in your whole life you’ll never have more than fifteen stores without my capital.”
Les hung up the phone and was beside himself.
“Fifteen stores,” he thought. “I never thought I’d have more than six.”
This retail magnet had in effect raised the bar of possibilities for Les’s vision for himself. At last count, Les’ chain includes well over 3000 stores.