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Leon Gorman, Longtime CEO Of Outdoor Outfitter L.L. Bean, Dies


The man who transformed L.L.Bean from a single country store into an international company died today. Leon Gorman, a grandson of L.L. Bean was 80 years old. Maine Public Radio's Patty Wight has this remembrance.

PATTY WIGHT, BYLINE: Leon Gorman had big boots to fill when he took the reins of L.L.Bean after his grandfather died. Leon Leonwood Bean was a prominent figure in day-to-day operations and a stickler for routine. But young Leon Gorman had actually been preparing for a leadership role for some time.


LEON GORMAN: I used to keep a little black book of improvements I would make if I ever did get in charge of things around there.

WIGHT: In a 2006 interview with Maine Public Radio, Gorman said he had several hundred to-dos on his list by the time he became president, changes his grandfather hadn't been interested in.


GORMAN: It was a real challenge. The first thing I really had to do is upgrade the product line. It was, you know, really obsolete.

WIGHT: While the iconic L.L.Bean boots didn't change, things like parkas got pull-cord waists and bright colors like teal and red. Gorman also modernized operations. He hired professional managers, added accounting and budgets. He expanded the company's direct marketing and embraced e-commerce. Every decade brought a new challenge, particularly the '90s.


GORMAN: Everybody got into the rugged outdoors business and into lifestyle merchandising and so forth and so on. And everybody was getting into catalogs and e-commerce and - you name it. It was just intense.

WIGHT: In his 34 years as CEO, Gorman took L.L.Bean from a struggling mail order outfit with a single store to what's now an international billion-and-a-half dollar business with thousands of employees.

JOHN OLIVER: He said very little that - but when he did, he was hugely influential.

WIGHT: L.L.Bean spokesperson John Oliver says what makes Gorman stand out is that while he elevated the company's bottom line, he also kept its down-home feel and core values, things like treating customers and employees with respect, promising lifetime satisfaction for all its products and promoting a healthy outdoor lifestyle.

OLIVER: And for him, the business existed not only for that purpose, but it was - the success of the business was to be shared, to be shared with the communities, to be shared with the employees. And that, he did.

WIGHT: Gorman donated his time and resources to many charities. Oliver says Leon Gorman was a humble, thoughtful man who inspired the best from L.L.Bean's employees. He died in his home in Yarmouth, Maine, after a recurrence of cancer. For NPR News, I'm Patty Wight. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Patty is a graduate of the University of Vermont and a multiple award-winning reporter for Maine Public Radio. Her specialty is health coverage: from policy stories to patient stories, physical health to mental health and anything in between. Patty joined Maine Public Radio in 2012 after producing stories as a freelancer for NPR programs such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She got hooked on radio at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, and hasn’t looked back ever since.
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