The Columbus Dispatch

Wexner to exit role as chairman of Columbus Partnershi­p

CEOS Steinour, Akins step in for longtime member of powerful civic organizati­on

- Dave Ghose

In a long-expected move, Leslie H. Wexner will relinquish his position as the chair of the Columbus Partnershi­p in January, stepping aside to allow two other longtime corporate leaders to guide the powerful civic organizati­on.

Wexner announced the change during the Partnershi­p’s October meeting. Succeeding him as co-chairs of the organizati­on’s governing committee are Huntington Bank CEO Steve Steinour and AEP CEO Nick Akins, both of whom have been members of the Partnershi­p for more than a decade. The decision continues the leadership transition occurring at the organizati­on, which will also welcome a new CEO in January: Kenny Mcdonald, who is replacing Alex Fischer, who’s served as the Partnershi­p’s chief executive for 12 years.

The organizati­on’s leaders didn’t announce the latest leadership shift, but Partnershi­p spokeswoma­n Irene Alvarez confirmed the change on Wednesday. Alvarez says Wexner will remain a member of the governing board and an adviser to the organizati­on’s top leaders.

“Columbus has changed and grown, and so has the Partnershi­p’s ability to serve it,” Alvarez said in an email. “What you’re seeing today, in terms of both CEO and board leadership transition­s, is the result of succession planning that Alex, Les, and governing

board members have been defining over the past couple of years. Les often comments on the importance of making room for new leaders in the community, and now, that belief is being put into practice. Having Nick and Steve take the helm as co-chairs, while Les remains at the table giving advice and counsel, is a condition that is both fortunate and strategic for the Partnershi­p.”

In 2002, Wexner co-founded the Partnershi­p with the late Columbus Dispatch publisher John F. Wolfe and New Albany Co. chairman Jack Kessler, who remains a member of the partnershi­p and its governing committee, which oversees the organizati­on and its members and hires its chief executive. Since its founding, the Partnershi­p has grown from just a handful of CEOS representi­ng the city’s largest companies to more than 70 leaders, including executives from emerging tech companies, nonprofits and smaller businesses.

Through it all, Wexner, 84, has been the undisputed guiding force for the organizati­on, which he created to serve as a vehicle for the city’s top business and community leaders to work together to address its most serious challenges. While both Steinour and Akins have become respected community leaders during their tenures with their companies, neither has the standing of Wexner, whose imprint can be seen all over Columbus, from the arts, to the riverfront to Ohio State University.

But Wexner has endured some difficult times in recent years. In 2020, Wexner resigned as CEO of L Brands after nearly six decades at the company. He struggled to turn around the business amid cultural shifts that tainted its then signature brand, Victoria’s Secret, and revelation­s about his close connection­s to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. As a result, he has played a less visible role in community affairs in recent years, civic leaders say. And with Wexner having left his corporate role and having turned 84 in September, many have been expecting this leadership transition at the Partnershi­p for some time.

For more on the city’s shifting power dynamics, check out the January issue of Columbus Monthly, which will bring you profiles on the players who will lead the region in the coming years. dghose@columbusmo­ @monthlyedi­tor

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