The Coronavirus Outbreak

By Sapna Maheshwari

The agreement to sell a majority of the lingerie brand to Sycamore Partners was terminated after the firms sparred in court.

L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, said it wanted to avoid “costly and distracting litigation.”
L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, said it wanted to avoid “costly and distracting litigation.”Credit...Andrew Chin/Getty Images
Sapna Maheshwari

The plan to sell Victoria’s Secret to a private equity firm was mutually terminated on Monday after the buyer, Sycamore Partners, tried to back out of the deal because it said it did not agree with steps the lingerie brand took in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

L Brands, which also owns Bath & Body Works, had agreed in February to sell a majority of Victoria’s Secret to Sycamore Partners for about $525 million. The transaction was expected to close in the second quarter. But as the pandemic forced Victoria’s Secret and many other retailers to temporarily close stores and furlough employees, Sycamore had second thoughts. The firm first tried to renegotiate the purchase, and then filed suit in Delaware to terminate the agreement, claiming L Brands had breached the terms of the deal. L Brands countersued, calling the attempt “invalid.”

In a statement on Monday, Sarah Nash, a director at L Brands and the company’s incoming chairwoman, cited the “extremely challenging business environment” for retailers as part of its decision to put an end to the deal.

“Our board believes that it is in the best interests of the company, our stockholders and our associates to focus our efforts entirely on navigating this environment to address those challenges and positioning our brands for success rather than engaging in costly and distracting litigation to force a partnership with Sycamore,” Ms. Nash said.

After the sale closed, the plan was for L Brands to remain a public company consisting of Bath & Body Works while Sycamore worked to revive Victoria’s Secret as a private company.

The acquisition had major implications for the company and its chief executive, Leslie H. Wexner, a storied 82-year-old retail magnate who has recently faced serious questions about his leadership. Questions have arisen about the company’s internal culture and Mr. Wexner’s relationship with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender. Mr. Wexner was expected to step down as C.E.O. and chairman upon the closing of the sale and retain a board seat at L Brands. Ms. Nash was then expected to become the chairwoman of L Brands.

On Monday, L Brands said that it planned to move forward with establishing Bath & Body Works as a “pure-play public company” and was taking “necessary steps” to prepare Victoria’s Secret to operate as a separate company. It also said that Mr. Wexner would step down as planned. Andrew Meslow, the current chief executive of Bath & Body Works, will become the C.E.O. of L Brands.

Stuart Burgdoerfer, who is currently the chief financial officer of L Brands, was appointed as interim chief executive of Victoria’s Secret, effective immediately. He will continue to be the C.F.O. of L Brands and report to Mr. Meslow and Ms. Nash.

The leadership changes will go into effect as of May 14, the day of the company’s annual shareholder meeting. The company said it would share additional details on its strategy during its next earnings call on May 21.

“The company will continue to take proactive measures to appropriately manage costs and expenditures to ensure liquidity in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, while also continuing to take steps to improve the brands’ performance,” L Brands said in the statement.

  • Updated April 11, 2020

    • If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

    • The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

    • No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

    • Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

    • If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

    • Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

    • That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.