Verna Gibson did not have her eye on the executive suite 27 years ago, when she took a part-time sales job in a Point Pleasant, W. Va., department store. But that is just where she is after a successful career in retailing. As president of Limited Stores, she is perhaps the highest-ranking woman to have worked her way up in a major American corporation. Her ambition today is both simple and lofty. Says she: "My current goal is to be the best corporate president in the nation."
Small dreams have no place at the Limited, Inc. Founded in 1963 by Chairman Leslie Wexner, the Columbus-based firm consists of Limited Stores and six other retail divisions. Indeed, the company has grown so fast that $1,000 worth of shares bought when the firm first went public in 1969 would today be worth $1,237,000. Wexner gives Gibson credit for much of that success.
Gibson has the hands-on style that is crucial in retailing. A few weeks ago, she was in Manhattan's first Limited store after hours, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, fixing the mannequins. The next morning, attired more elegantly in a green silk blouse and black skirt, she presided over the opening of the store, the 600th in the chain.
Married at the end of her sophomore year at Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va., Gibson worked in various cities while her husband James was building his career in sales. In 1971 she saw her first Limited store in a shopping mall in Columbus. Intrigued by its high-style, affordable fashion approach, she got in touch with Wexner. Says he: "No one had ever called me to talk about my business. She became my assistant with no title and little pay."
As the chain began to take off, growing from eight stores to 100 in her first five years with the firm, Gibson kept the books, traveled as a buyer and even delivered loads of merchandise in her station wagon when the stores ran short. For three years during the company's heaviest growth, when the Gibsons' two daughters Kelly and Beth were in high school, James Gibson stayed home to take care of them. He now owns J. Duffy's, an Ohio company that specializes in designer home accessories.
Now that Kelly and Beth are in college, Gibson frequently ducks away for weekends with her husband at their South Carolina condominium or relaxes aboard a 50-ft. Chris-Craft yacht they keep in Palm Beach, Fla. Says she: "I am a wife, a mother, a girl and a corporate president. I like it that way and in that order." It seems to be a formula for success.