After 45 years, Chairman of LL Bean, Leon Gorman, has stepped down from his role at the organization. His grandfather and founder of the organization, Leon Leonwood Bean would surely be proud of the company’s growth in recent decades under Leon Gorman’s leadership. Great leaders are often developed through following the examples of influential leaders before them. Such is the case of Leon Gorman and Leon Leonwood Bean. Were it not for Leon Leonwood Bean’s vision, ethics and drive, this century old organization would not be meeting customer needs around the world today. Below are some important lessons to note from the life of Leon Leonwood Bean.
Leon Leonwood Bean’s Leadership Qualities
In a competitive business world, it can be hard to maintain honesty at all times. But as we saw in the movie Liar Liar, telling stories can get us in trouble. This holds true in business. When Bean offered a 100% money back guarantee on his product, he meant it. There were no strings attached or special conditions. This moral principle gained him respect and enabled him to establish genuine relationships with customers. Leon Gorman, Bean’s grandson, once said “The most important legacy of L.L.’s genius was the power of his personality. It transcended the buying and selling of products. His personal charisma based on down-home honesty, a true love for the outdoors and a genuine enthusiasm for people, inspired all who worked for him and attracted a fanatic loyalty among his customers” (LLBean.com).
- Customer Service
To Bean, there was a concrete integration of the golden rule when it came to customer service. Personally testing his own products, Bean made sure he was providing quality that genuinely met a need. On LL Bean’s Company History portion of the website, the company shares a treasured quote from their founder “”A customer is the most important person ever in this office – in person or by mail.” Strong skills in emotional intelligence and leadership enabled him to instill this same attitude within company culture, which has helped to keep the organization growing for a century.
- Succession Planning
Leon Gorman, L.L.’s grandson, joined the company in 1961. According to Leon, L.L. had “established an image that was as broad in its appeal and as enduring in its acceptance as any in marketing history.” Leon Gorman took over as company president in 1967 and led the company’s transition into a modern, world-class organization. He studied old catalogs, talked with long-time employees and vendors and immersed himself in learning about L.L.Bean products and markets. He formalized the company’s customer service approach, revitalized its leadership and updated compensation policies (LL Bean). Bean knew that to keep the business strong, he would need to plan and mentor diligently through succession planning to enable a smooth transition when he would step down from his role. Again, this is something that he instilled in organization culture, which is still being practiced today and serving the company well. Now that Gorman is leaving his role as Chairman, his nephew Shaun Gorman will be taking his seat. “As with Leon’s transition from president and CEO 12 years ago, this has been a carefully planned succession process,” explains current CEO Chris McCormick to The Bangor Daily News in a statement regarding Leon Gorman’s retirement. “It represents the family’s reaffirmation of their intentions to continue the business as a family-owned enterprise and their interest in beginning the transition of leadership to the next generation of family owners.”
Talent is great and vision gets the ball rolling, but there’s a lot more to success. When boiled down, success is a direct reflection of an individual’s core values. Some would argue that success isn’t even defined by money, but instead one’s ability to kindle change for the better. Be it a leader who is founding a beloved business that meets consumer needs or a philanthropist that creates a school for underprivileged children, memorable leaders are those who hold to their values and don’t lose their sense of dignity. That is what earns them respect and catapults their journey to the top.