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

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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.

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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.

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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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

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.


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