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L.L. Bean chairman change, all in the family

Leon A. Gorman, grandson of the company's founder,

Leon A. Gorman, grandson of the company's founder, L.L. Bean, is retiring as chairman after more than a half-century as a top executive with the retailer. Credit: AP, 1999

PORTLAND, Maine - L.L. Bean's grandson Leon Gorman is retiring as chairman of the outdoors retailer after more than a half-century as chairman or CEO, but the privately held firm is keeping the chairmanship in the family.

The Maine-based company informed its 5,000 full- and part-time workers Monday that Bean's great-grandson Shawn Gorman, 47, 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.

Shawn 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 catalogs to online retailing.

"Leon is a walking legend around here," Shawn Gorman said. "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 a rarity among big retailers. "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 of Appel Associates, a retail consultant in Purchase, N.Y.

Leon Gorman will retain the title of chairman emeritus and a seat on the board. Chris McCormick, the first chief executive from outside the family, retains that position, which he's held for 12 years.

Shawn Gorman has worked at the company for more than 20 years in a number of roles, including senior vice president for brand communications.

Leon Gorman told workers 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 companywide memo.

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