How One Ohio State Trustee Made Unlimited Efforts to Bring Back Gordon Gee

July 20, 2007

A key part of Ohio State University’s wooing of E. Gordon Gee, the Vanderbilt University chancellor and once-again Ohio State president, was a surprise visit to Nashville in June by two members of Ohio State’s Board of Trustees, The Other Paper, a weekly newspaper in Columbus, Ohio, reports.

After flying by private jet, Leslie H. Wexner, a trustee and the chief executive of the Limited Brands Inc., and another trustee arrived on the doorstep of Braeburn, Vanderbilt’s presidential mansion, where they startled Mr. Gee, who had been playing host to several Vanderbilt officials. “It was totally unexpected” and a “little awkward,” Mr. Gee told the newspaper.

Although Mr. Gee rejected the two trustees’ offer, he said that he was flattered by the visit and that their enthusiasm helped win him over later. Although Mr. Wexner was on Ohio State’s presidential-search committee, he was not its chairman. Still, the impromptu trip to Nashville was hardly the first time he’d sought to influence the search.

The newspaper reports that Mr. Wexner, a trustee during Mr. Gee’s first stint at Ohio State, has used his political clout to get Ohio’s legislature to drop a law prohibiting trustees from serving multiple terms and to pass a law increasing the number of Ohio State trustees, from nine to 15. When Karen A. Holbrook, Ohio State’s president, announced her retirement last year, Mr. Wexner began working to bring Mr. Gee back.

Mr. Gee’s relationship with Mr. Wexner includes his longtime service on the Board of Directors of the Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, Express, and Bath & Body Works, among other labels. Some industry observers have grumbled that Mr. Gee’s slot on the board could be a conflict of interest, noting that Mr. Wexner now influences two channels of his compensation.

According to an April filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr. Gee earned $131,209 in cash and stock awards in 2006 as a director of the company, not including fees for attending meetings. He owns 44,828 Limited shares through beneficial means, with an estimated market value of $1.2-million. —Paul Fain