Rose From Trainee to Division President : No Limits for Limited's Gibson

Associated Press

Fourteen years ago, Verna Gibson saw a Limited Store at a mall in Ohio and fell in love with it. She immediately went to a pay phone and called The Limited's founder to ask for a job.

She got it. Now Gibson, 43, is president of what grew into one of the largest women's apparel chains in the country.

The native of Elkview, W.Va., who was named to her current post in May, oversees 579 stores--there were eight when she joined up--and 10,000 employees.

Flagship Division

Limited Stores is the flagship division of The Limited of Columbus, Ohio, which operates about 2,265 stores through six divisions. The other divisions are Limited Express, Lerner, Lane Bryant, Sizes Unlimited and Victoria's Secret.

Limited, which expects its 1984 sales of $1.34 billion to more than double this year, also distributes seven mail-order catalogues nationally.

Gibson says she also immediately liked the founder who hired her, Chairman Leslie Wexner, who has become acquisition-minded. Last year, he acquired Lerner Stores. Earlier, he made an unsuccessful, hostile bid for the much larger Carter Hawley Hale Stores of Los Angeles.

"We feel more like a family than businesses do in general," Gibson said in an interview during a visit to New York.

"One of the first things he told me is, 'Don't make money by hurting another guy,' " Gibson said. "It doesn't mean you can't be tough-minded. We're in the business to make money. But it doesn't require us to be devious."

What does she plan to do with Limited Stores?

"I have been a part of The Limited since the very early years. Any major change would be ridiculous. I don't think you fix something that isn't broken," she said.

Merchandise Trainee

Gibson's first job at The Limited was as a merchandise trainee.

She became a buyer, then a divisional merchandise manager and then vice president of sportswear. In 1982, she was promoted to executive vice president and general merchandise manager of Limited Stores.

As a teen-ager, she had worked part time at a small women's apparel store, which prompted her to major in retailing at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.

She said Limited Stores cater to "fashion-oriented" women, mostly aged 18 to 40. The stores aim to offer customers "strong looks first, fashion looks first, not second," she said.

"We don't say people in Omaha won't wear this or people in St. Louis won't wear that," she said.

But Gibson will not discuss future fashion trends.

"I'd be giving absolute secrets to competitors, which I refuse to do. It's very hard in the fashion business to keep a competitive edge," she said.

Seeks New Looks

She travels 60% of the time, partly to find those new looks, partly to oversee the company's international operations.

"I think it's very, very important for me to do. I'm a very hands-on manager," she said.

That much travel can be wearing but the hardest part of the job, she said, "is when somebody I believe in doesn't make it, they give up. . . . That's heartbreaking."

What are her personal ambitions?

"To keep growing. I don't know specifically what that means," she said.

She has been married 24 years to Jim Gibson, who has his own fashion home-wear business. They live in Bexley, Ohio, and have two daughters, one 23 years old, the other 21.

When the children were in high school, Jim Gibson stayed at home to care for them.

"We were very worried about making As in success and Cs in children," she said. "It was very important to us to be available" to the children.

To what does she attribute her personal success?

Had Good Attitude

"I think I always had a willing attitude about learning," she said, adding: "I'm a very hard worker. I'm a very good merchant. I like to work with other people. I think its fun to be a part of the team instead of a singular woman."

"I like being a girl," she said. "It doesn't bother me if people open the door. I didn't spend any time on it. I thought about the job."

But, she added: "I don't pretend to be a man, either."

Do her daughters feel pressure to achieve as she has?

"I think they feel some, more than I would like them to feel," Gibson said.

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