Live from ACCM: What Would L.L. Bean Have Done?

Boston–During his Tuesday morning keynote address, L.L. Bean chairman and former president Leon Gorman recalled his grandfather’s death in 1967, and how he and his family were trying to keep quiet about the passing of the company’s founder. But word of the 94-year-old Leon Leonwood Bean’s death traveled fast, and not only took up 11 minutes of the local television channel’s evening news but was reported on nationally as well, an indication of how iconic the cataloger had become.

Despite the fame that his company acquired, Bean liked to live a low-key, simple lifestyle. “When I started working for L.L. Bean, I was looking for ways to grow the company,” Gorman said during his keynote speech on Tuesday. “He’d say, ‘I already eat three meals a day, why do I need a fourth?’”

Gorman used his keynote speech to talk about his book, L.L. Bean: The Making of An American Icon, in which he describes how the Freeport, ME-based merchant of outdoor gear, apparel, and home goods stuck to its core values as its sales went from $2.25 million in 1960 to $1.2 billion in 2001.

Though sales increased 17% annually from the day in 1960 when his grandfather hired him to the day he retired in 2001, Gorman stressed that his is not a how-to book.

During the question-and-answer portion of the session, an audience member asked Gorman if he thought L.L. Bean would have been happy with what his company has become.

“I don’t think he would have been comfortable in a big company where he couldn’t have played every position,’ Gorman said. “But I do think he would have been very proud of the reputation that his company has for quality of products.”

For his part, Gorman believes that the company has been able to grow precisely because it stayed true to his grandfather’s core values.

“Treat people with respect, or they will not respect you,” Gorman said, noting the company tries to live by that Golden Rule. “A warehouse worker once wrote me a letter and said, ‘You probably wouldn’t have this company if it wasn’t for your grandfather, and you’d probably be selling apples at a roadside stand. But it would probably be the greatest roadside stand there is.’”

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