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Can a new CEO make Victoria's Secret relevant again?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

Nov 26, 2020

Business |OPINION

If ever there was a brand that needed sharpening of its social listening skills it was Victoria’s Secret. Every year in November the American lingerie giant would host an extravaganza of famous models transformed into the brand’s high-heeled ‘angels’, walking a runway decked in bejewelled lingerie and feathered wings.

In sharp contrast to the ethnically diverse castings of other brands, Victoria’s Secret failed to make body positive, size inclusivity and racial diversity as part of its DNA. The brand lost millions of viewers, took its show off the airwaves, attempted a sale to private equity and hired a CEO who lasted less than two years in the role. It then hired another CEO who also lasted less than two years, and now, hoping to get third-time lucky, looked internally and appointed Martin Waters, who has been with the company since 2008, as CEO with immediate effect.

A new director of HR and returning chief designer means a new leadership team is running VS. Will they successfully be able to turnaround a company rooted in an outdated version of sexy and femininity? An old-school business model that wasn’t digital-first hasn’t helped during the pandemic when retailers were forced to close. In the U.S. a quarter of its 1,000 were shuttered in addition to reducing its workforce by 15 percent.

Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands posted a decent third quarter, with operating profit at 580 million dollars, due largely to its Bath & Body Works business. Back in September Victoria’s Secret’s UK arm formed a joint venture with Next plc, of which Waters said “We are pleased to take this next step in our profit improvement plan for Victoria’s Secret. Next’s capabilities and experience in the U.K. market are substantial, and our partnership will provide meaningful growth opportunities for the business.”

A fresh approach is not yet evident

With its show cancelled for a second year in row, Victoria’s Secret has had ample time to consider the Me Too movement and how to reposition itself in a changed world of female beauty and its relation to apparel categories of lingerie and underwear. Thus far any fresh thinking has yet to prove successful and invigorate the brand.

Image via Victoria’s Secret