“To my mind, hunting and fishing is the big lure that takes us into the great open spaces and teaches us to forget the mean and petty things of life.”
L.L. models his first Maine Safety Hunting Coat in 1917
An outdoorsman first and businessman second, Leon Leonwood Bean grew up in western Maine, hunting and fishing every chance he could. Stints working at shoe and apparel shops around Maine gave “L.L.” plenty of retail experience and paid the bills. But he lived for weekends, filled with the thrill of the chase and the camaraderie of fellow hunters.
He was just back from a hunting expedition – footsore from wearing clunky leather boots that leaked and then stiffened as they dried – when inspiration struck. “I took a pair of shoe rubbers from the stock on the shelves and had a shoe maker cut out a pair of 7 1/2 inch tops. The local cobbler stitched the whole thing together.” And, in 1911, the Maine Hunting Shoe was born, and New England’s notoriously rugged, boggy terrain was about to meet its match.
When L.L. Bean started his company, his view of serving the customer was as revolutionary as his product. He said, “A customer is the most important person ever in this office – in person or by mail.” Whether seeking expert advice or purchasing goods, customers quickly learned that L.L.Bean wasn’t like other companies of the day.
One of Wall Street Journal’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs of the 20th century, L.L. became a pioneer of direct marketing. The fact that he was an outdoorsman who personally developed, tested and guaranteed his products established him as one of the most respected names in the business.
L.L. ran his company until his death at the age of 94 on February 5, 1967. “One thing I learned throughout my lifetime,” he often said, “is the fact that outdoor recreation, such as hunting, fishing and camping, has added years to my life span.”
Leon Leonwood Bean was born in 1872, in Greenwood, Maine. Orphaned at the age of 12, he grew up working on the farms of various relatives and friends. After attending Kent’s Hill Commercial College, he worked as a clerk in his brother Otho’s shoe store. In 1895, Otho opened a second store in Freeport, Maine, called Bean Bros. and hired L.L. to manage it. In 1911, L.L.’s passion for the outdoors and Yankee ingenuity came together with the birth of the Maine Hunting Shoe and the L.L.Bean company.
“We share our customers' belief in the value of the outdoor experience – of the physical and spiritual rewards that come from participation in outdoor activities.”
Leon Gorman hiking near the Wild River, on the Maine-New Hampshire border, in 1985
The grandson of company founder L.L., Leon Gorman joined the family business in 1961. He took every chance he could to learn the business – waiting on customers, studying the old catalogs and, of course, trying out the gear.
“A lot of my weekends were spent in the outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing, skiing and so on,” he recalled in his 2006 memoir, L.L.Bean: The Making of an American Icon. “I couldn’t imagine working for a company where I couldn’t use the products and develop a passion for them.”
In 1967, following his grandfather’s death, Leon became president of the company. He quickly introduced his hallmark "stakeholder concept," linking L.L.Bean's success to the well being of its customers, employees, communities and the natural environment.
In his 30 years at the helm, Leon grew L.L.Bean from a struggling $4.75 million catalog company to an over-one-billion-dollar multichannel leader in the outdoor industry. And true to the stakeholder philosophy, the company gave back as it grew, supporting conservation, outdoor recreation and other programs in the community.
Leon played a significant role in the conservation community. He and his wife, Lisa, helped protect thousands of pristine acres of land through their support of The Nature Conservancy’s St. John River Project, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s capital campaign and fundraising efforts by the Student Conservation Association.
Leon’s contributions also went well beyond the financial. For over a decade, he rolled up his sleeves as a volunteer at Preble Street, preparing and serving breakfast for those in need, and was named their Volunteer of the Year in 2009.
Leon A. Gorman was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, in 1934, and was raised in Yarmouth, Maine. He graduated from Bowdoin College and spent four years in the Navy before joining L.L.Bean. He received numerous awards from various civic and philanthropic organizations, including the Presidential Award from the Portland, Maine, chapter of the NAACP. He also received L.L.Bean’s highest internal honor, the Bean’s Best award, in 2001 and Bowdoin College’s highest honor, the Bowdoin Prize Award, in 2010. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 80.
“When I need to make sense of things I look to nature. No matter how chaotic life may get, the outdoors always helps me to reframe my priorities and give me renewed energy.”
We spoke with Shawn Gorman, Executive Chairman of the Board and great-grandson of L.L. Bean, about how the outdoors has shaped his life and career.
I grew up in Exeter, New Hampshire. The outdoors was everything, and we were outside from sun up to sun down – catching fish in local streams, playing in the park. Without the distractions of electronics, our lives revolved around the outdoors.
There’s always something to do in Maine. I particularly love boating and fishing on Casco Bay, skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain with my family and mountain biking.
I have a great childhood memory of hiking Mount Washington with my dad. I’m 6’8” now, but back then I was pretty little, and I had to struggle to keep up. What I remember most, though, is the feeling of accomplishment when we reached the top! I recently shared a similar experience summiting Mount Katahdin with my own kids.
My L.L.Bean Gore-Tex Patroller Jacket – it’s my go-to outerwear. Also, I can never have too many Boat and Totes. They keep me and my family organized.
Shawn’s L.L.Bean career began in 1991, when he joined the company’s Marketing department as an analyst. He went on to hold a number of leadership positions in Marketing, International, E-Commerce, Partnership Marketing and Creative. His accomplishments include introducing the company to online and email marketing, integrating L.L.Bean’s brand strategies across channels and leading L.L.Bean’s cobranded credit card program – one of the most successful in the country.
“I find my time exercising and recreating outside to be my most reflective. I get myself centered. Time spent outdoors is good for the soul.”
We sat down with Steve Smith, L.L.Bean’s fourth President and CEO, to talk about what being an outsider means to him.
Outside of New York City, later in Amherst, MA. My family had a house in the Adirondacks – on Canada Lake. I spent every summer there, fishing, hiking, water skiing and canoeing.
Sitting around a campfire laughing and telling stories, hiking almost anywhere and anything on the water.
On a three-day hiking trip in the White Mountains, I asked my wife, Lynn, to marry me near the top of Mount Washington at the Lakes of the Clouds. And she said “yes.”
The Allagash Pack. It represents the leadership philosophy that has guided my life and career, long before I knew it was an Allagash Pack or that I would be working at L.L.Bean.
Steve began his career in 1992 at J. Walter Thompson. Following a decade of working in merchandising, marketing and customer relationships for companies including Resort Sports Network, Hannaford Supermarket and the Delhaize Group, Steve joined Walmart International in 2011. He held a variety of leadership roles for Walmart China, Asda (a Walmart-owned food, fashion and general merchandise business in the United Kingdom) and Yihaodian (part of Walmart Global eCommerce – a Shanghai e-commerce business).