FREEPORT, Maine – L.L. Bean’s grandson Leon Gorman is retiring as chairman of the outdoors retailer after more than a half-century as the company’s chairman or CEO, but the privately held firm is keeping the position in the family.
The Maine-based outdoors retailer informed its 5,000 full- and part-time workers Monday that Bean’s great-grandson Shawn Gorman is the latest family member to serve as chairman, underscoring a commitment to family ownership in an era in which most large retailers are publicly traded.
Gorman said there’s been a careful behind-the-scenes transition led by his 78-year-old uncle, Leon Gorman, who’s credited with modernizing the company after L.L. Bean’s death in 1967, setting it on a path of growth by transitioning from catalogues to online retailing.
“Leon is a walking legend around here,” Gorman told The Associated Press. “He made this business what it is. I’m here to make sure it continues for the next 100 years.”
L.L. Bean got its start in 1912 when Leon Leonwood Bean obtained a list of out-of-state hunters from the state of Maine and sent out mailings touting his rubber-soled hunting boots. He opened the first store five years later in Freeport. The company now has more than $1.5 billion in annual sales.
L.L. Bean’s family ownership is something of a rarity in a marketplace where consolidations mean more large retailers are publicly traded.
“What you have are publicly traded companies like Nordstrom and Dillard’s that are still run by family members, but there’s just not that many large private retailers anymore,” said Michael Appel, president of Appel Associates, a consultant focusing on retail and consumer goods in Purchase, N.Y.
In Maine, Leon Gorman served for 33 years as president and CEO, and as chairman of the board for 12 years. He’ll retain the title of “chairman emeritus” and a seat on the board. Chris McCormick, the first CEO from outside the family, retains that position, which he’s held for 12 years.
Shawn Gorman, 47, is a familiar face at L.L. Bean, having worked for more than 20 years at the company in a number of roles before becoming senior vice-president for brand communications, where he oversaw market research and advertising teams.
He and two cousins, Jennifer Wilson and Nate Clark, will comprise the family governance committee under the new structure announced Monday.
In Freeport, the story of a homegrown business remaining family owned resonated with some shoppers.
“I just think it’s cool that such a big corporation can still be family owned, because when you think of family owned it’s usually a really small corporation or small business,” Laura Tims, who lives nearby, said while relaxing near a giant L.L. Bean boot at the store’s entrance. “It’s neat that that could still exist.”
As for Leon Gorman, he told workers that he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family while hunting, fishing and hiking — and less time in a boardroom.
“I wish you all the best and hope to be seeing you on the trail,” he wrote in a company-wide memo.
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