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Les Wexner Quotes

Leslie Wexner

Les Wexner quotes: about supermodels, Ferraris, having his mom’s support growing up, the danger in stopping to smell the roses, and so much more.

“I think finding the way in life is the hardest part.  At every stage of life, every trial, every success, you know, you’re going into some kind of fog.  There isn’t a plan that suddenly reveals itself, and you go, ‘Ta-da!  Now I understand.'”

“Keep your mental muscle loose.  You have to keep stretching.”

“I think success is about purpose.  People ask about success at different points in your life.  As I look back, I think people that are successful feel good about what they are doing, and they can look back at what they’ve done and they feel good about it.  People sometimes ask about success and they say, ‘What’s your legacy?’ and I say, ‘I think it’s really a dumb question.’  I think the question is: ‘What am I doing now?  Do I feel good about myself?  Am I proud of myself’  Whatever purpose there is in life, I think success is about purpose.  It’s not about material things.”

“My favorite leader is George Washington.  Because he came from very modest circumstances.  He wasn’t the son of a plantation owner.  He was the son of a farmer.  He had no formal education, very frustrated.  He started writing a diary when he was in his teens, and he wrote things like, ‘When I grow up, I want to be respected.  When I grow up, I want to be successful.  When I grow up, I want to know things.’  What I find fascinating about Washington is he wanted to make something of himself.”

“If you keep your nose to the grindstone, you don’t have any nose.”

“Ask yourself: what forms the decisions you make?  What is it that gnaws at you?  What are your crucible moments?”

“You have to keep being curious.  The notion that the present is different than the past, and the future will be different than the present, and the present is past, as we say it.  I think I, by nature, am an optimist.  Maybe I was driven to escape from my childhood and to be something, create my own world or career the way I wanted it to be.  And I keep doing that in very interesting ways.”

“As an entrepreneur, you work out solutions.”

“Entrepreneurs, guys that start businesses, grow with them.  It’s more painful than it would appear.”

“I think I’m determined.  And I think if you’re determined, you’re right.  Your behavior is exactly the same when you’re stubborn, except then you’re wrong.  And so, there’s times when I’m wrong, and I’d say, ‘Well, you were the dark side of determined.’  But I think determination, you know, it’s like: have an idea, think about the idea, the risks involved – what does it take to get from here to there?  And then once you make the choice, you just keep going.”

“You’re not going to be a 1.000 hitter all the time.  You’re going to be more wrong than right.  You just have to correct your errors as quickly, as economically, as possible.”

“The risk of failure is a very personal thing.  One of the quotes I like, I think this came from the famous basketball coach from California – John Wooden – is that, ‘Successful people – winners – do everything necessary to prepare to win, without the certainty of winning.’  Everybody would do everything necessary to prepare to win if winning was a certainty.  So you’re willing to put yourself out publicly and privately and say, ‘I’m going to do this.'”

“If you start painting yourself into a corner, life starts shutting down.  There is always hopefully a next.”

“I don’t want to be blocked from trying my ideas, from being creative.”

“Everything has a lifecycle.  You have to believe it’s going to change.”

“Everybody has to solve that ‘meaning of life’ and ‘purpose’ question for themselves.  Everybody does it their own way.  I think you have to be thoughtful about the way that you’re doing it.  So I describe it as purpose.  If you can think about leading a purposeful life – not just an accumulation, but you actually make the world a better place – then I think in the grand scheme of the universe, that that explains our existence.  If not, we’re just passing through.  We’re grains of sand and we’re blowing in the breeze.”

“When you coach and teach leadership, most people think about them.  It’s like you’re the leader and how do you influence them.  Clearly, leaders do take their followers, their flock, their enterprise, their business – whatever – hopefully to a better place.  But I think the foundation of what makes really great leaders is they lead themselves, and they’re conscious about knowing themselves and coaching and leading themselves in a very profound way.  The simplest of us talk to ourselves.  The question is: do we really lead ourselves?”

“My view is that everything begins with the customer.  If you know the customer, then you can match the merchandise and then you can market it.  The marketing is kind of the icing.  The foundation is the cake.  That’s the merchandise.  Then the question is: do the customers want cake, or do they want cupcakes or donuts?  What is it?”

“I don’t believe bigger is better, I believe better is better.  Period.”

“I think I have terminal curiosity.  So I always think that the future will be better and different than the past.  As I look back and take inventory of myself, I’m very open-minded and flexible.  People say the older you get, you get set in your ways.  I don’t think so.”

“Sometimes I wish I lived more in the day, but I’m happier thinking about tomorrow or the day after.  The way I see it, there’s always a new or next thing.”

“I don’t think I’ve invented anything.  Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, and Steve Jobs didn’t invent the cell phone, and he didn’t invent the digital revolution, but he could adapt, put things together in creative ways.  So I think in what we do there’s a lot of ‘let’s try it and sees,’ whether it’s a new color or a new style.  But we didn’t invent cosmetics or lingerie.  How we market them – style, color – those are the things that we do, but it isn’t pure creation.  It’s putting together ideas.  I truly believe there’s nothing really new in the world.”

“I think different societies, cultures, individuals, teams of people, make the world a better place.  The founding fathers, they made New England, they made those 13 colonies.  I don’t know if they thought they were changing the world or just changing their world, but they did make the world a better place.  Doctors that cure patients or cure diseases or make discoveries, they’re making the world a better place.  Can I make the world a better place by selling underpants?  Not really.  That’s just the means.  That gives me resources to try to make the world a better place.”

“Growing up, I knew you were supposed to have a profession – and something better than being a shopkeeper, which is what my parents were.”

“My mom was terrific.  I described my mom once.  If fear was a color, she was color blind.  Nothing frightened her.  If I told her that I was going to take over General Motors, she’d say, ‘You can do it.’  Just the most preposterous things, ambitious things, she said, ‘You can do it.'”

“I was very lucky to find a career which let me travel, sourcing stores in other countries, just the opportunities of the career in design and finance and all the things that make retailing – my career – interesting to me.  That’s why I started looking at community responsibility.  I felt I should give of myself.”

“My Picassos and Ferraris – those are kind of just toys.  Those aren’t the things that matter.  What matters in the car collecting or the art collecting is to learn about it, and then actually not the acquisition but to put them into a collection that I think is curated.  You know, so something of me in the collection that the artist actually created the work.  If I was going to collect art, it had to be something of me, my eye, things that appeal to me… so when I looked at it, it would really look like a collection, not just an accumulation of stuff.”

“My friends don’t understand, whether it’s belonging to a country club or playing golf, or whatever a vacation is, that should make you happy.  And it’s like, ‘No, happiness is much deeper.’  I think people have to struggle to find things that give them purpose, the real meaning.  Why am I alive?  Why did God bless me with these skills or these resources?  What am I to do with them?  If God just lets some person be very fortunate, let’s say financially, it’s kind of a funny God.”

“A woman at The Limited once asked me, ‘Why do you work?  You made a lot of money as a young man, so why are you still working?’  I had never thought about it before.  Forced to consider it, I told her, ‘You know why?  Because I think that if you stop to smell the roses, you’ll get hit by a truck.'”

“I don’t think most analysts understand that whether I work a 70-hour week or an 80-hour week, I take my head with me when I go home.”

“I think a lot of people would assume that my job is more about supermodels and naked ladies and all that, and no, it’s just really about fashion, merchandise and customers.  So the obviously sexy parts – you get to go to the fashion show and all that stuff.  It’s really just business.  That’s my story.  I’m sticking to it.”

“I think what I’ve tried to do is make the world a better place.  I think that’s what’s really important.  Nobody remembers who sold the most togas in Rome.  In terms of legacy, people remember the great villains more than they remember the great heroes.  So I think how you feel about yourself is the most significant question.  What do you say about yourself when you put your head on the pillow?  Are you really proud of what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it?  I think it’s really a fundamental question.”

“If your life lease, your existence, was canceled tomorrow, what would you wish you had done?  What are the things you would like to impact?  Start on those and you can change the world.  Maybe you can only make your neighborhood a little bit better, or make someone’s life a little bit better.  Isn’t that the kind of purpose?”

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