The Victoria’s Secret show costs more than $10 million to put on and is hailed as one of the most important fashion shows in the world. What is not so known about the company is the tragic story of its founder, Roy Raymond. Raymond started the company after being influenced by a shopping trip he’d just taken with his wife.
The saddest part about Raymond’s life is that he killed himself after not being able to participate fully in the potential of his company. Raymond opened the first Victoria’s Secret shop in Northern California in 1977. They named the company after the Victorian period during which their home was built.
“Our original idea was to have a store where men felt comfortable shopping for lingerie. It all began when Roy went shopping for me, and felt out of place in a lingerie store. Victoria’s Secret tried to change that,” says Gaye, Roy’s wife. Gaye is now a 65-year old professor at Samuel Merritt University.
The couple had five shops by 1982, and then made the horrible mistake of selling the company for $5 million to Leslie Wexner, founder of The Limited.
“My husband Roy had spoken to Les Wexner a few times about working together, but ultimately Roy felt he couldn’t share decision-making, and was happier getting out completely,” says Gaye.
Of course, the selling price was just a fraction of what the company is worth today. According to most recent estimates, the company’s value now exceeds $13 billion, making it a huge score for Wexner and company.
Roy went on to try other projects, like a store called “My Child’s Destiny,” which sold children’s products. The company went bankrupt in 1986. He’d invested nearly a million dollars of his own money in the business and was made personally liable for all of its debts after never getting it incorporated. He then split with his wife shortly after losing everything.
Roy and Gaye divorced in 1993 when Victoria’s Secret was flying high as the largest retailer in the United States. Roy tried other projects, but could never get anything going.
“He went through a couple of business failures and I think he suffered depression,” says Gaye. “He borrowed a lot of money from his mother. He was trying to start another company but things didn’t go well, and he saw only one way out.”
“It’s so sad, because he was young, creative, really a brilliant businessman, but he suffered setbacks and couldn’t seem to bounce back from them. He felt he couldn’t go on,” she said.
At the age of 46, Raymond killed himself by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Raymond’s experience serves as a cautionary tale about seeing the potential of your business idea and not letting others see it for you. If you build something this strong, at least hold a percentage of ownership and don’t cut yourself out completely. Raymond’s biggest mistake was that he never held equity in the company he founded, which led to his economic demise.