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L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon Hardcover – October 3, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Gorman doesn't try to gloss over anything with his tell-it-like-it-is style of writing. How one man started a business with the classic Maine hunting shoe...is a story in itself." -- Women's Wear Daily, December 12, 2006

"There is a lot to be learned here about running a company, and the importance of never forgetting our customers' needs." -- Yankee Magazine, November 2006

...Bean is about strong Maine values and the outdoor lifestyle... -- Forbes.com, October 19, 2006

From the Back Cover

“L.L.Bean is much more than a folksy, friendly, direct-mail retailer. It is an extraordinary corporate success story, with powerful lessons for managers about strategic positioning, marketing and brand, organizational culture and values, and the challenges of explosive growth. As the leader of L.L.Bean for over thirty years, Leon Gorman guided and shaped the company as it rose to prominence, and he tells the story with simplicity, charm, and grace. It is a compelling saga.”

— David A. Garvin, C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

“An incredible story about an outdoor industry icon, L.L.Bean, that became — under the guidance of Leon Gorman — a national treasure. L. L. would be proud to know his grandson, Leon, is still enabling millions of people to enjoy the great outdoors in comfort.”

— Jim Whittaker, first American to climb Mt. Everest and former President and CEO of REI

“This book tells a compelling business story about the challenges and milestones along the way to building a venerable American company. Yet it is more than the usual business book. Leon Gorman tells this story with his characteristic charm, wit, and self-effacing humor, making it a delightful read for any audience. I enjoyed it immensely!”

— Senator George J. Mitchell

“The story of L.L.Bean teaches us the value of tradition, artfully combined with a clear strategic vision and purpose and an unwavering respect for every stakeholder. These lessons are enduring — just like the company. L.L.Bean is one of a kind and so is this book.”

— Elaine Rosen, former President, Unum Life Insurance Company of America

“Thanks to Leon's clear voice and strong writing, the story of L.L.Bean and Leon's own remarkable role in the firm are told well and interestingly. I give my former student an A+.”

— Roy Greason, President Emeritus, Bowdoin College


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (October 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578511836
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578511839
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #511,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas Duff HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
L. L. Bean is the classic example of the cultural icon company... One that has been around forever, runs by a different set of rules, and has a fanatically loyal customer base. Leon Gorman, the last family member to serve as President of the company, recounts the history and struggles in his book L. L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon. It's an interesting look at how doing a few things correctly can overcome a number of other things done really badly.


Part 1 - 1960 - 1967: L. L. Gives Me a Job; Learning the Business; Who Will Succeed L. L.?

Part 2 - 1968 - 1975: A Committee of One; Living the L. L. Story; "To Run A Perfect Company"

Part 3 - 1976 - 1990: Taking L. L. Bean Professional; Fashion Boom and Bust; Back on Track; End of an Era

Part 4 - 1991 - 2000: TQ and Other Ventures; A Loss of Relevance; Time for Transformations; Platform for Growth

Epilogue; Voices; Notes; Bibliography; Index

Leon Gorman was hired by his grandfather, L. L. Bean, back in 1960 right out of the Navy. Gorman really didn't have specific responsibilities, but Bean wouldn't turn down a family member. Gorman spent most of his time learning about the company, how it operated, and how business flowed from one end to the other. At this point in time, L. L. Bean was a small catalog operation with one quirky retail store in Maine. The target audience was outdoorsmen, and all the apparel and merchandise sold reflected the feelings and opinions of what Bean thought was the best buy in any given category. This approach started back in 1912 and continued to carry forth at the time Gorman was hired. But Bean was getting old, had no real plan for succession of the company, nor did he really want to grow it any larger.
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Format: Hardcover
Don't let the cute color painting of a pair of Maine Hunting Shoes on the dust jacket fool you. This is a business biography, with the emphasis on business. It tells the story of the LL Bean mail order and retail merchandising company as seen by Leon Gorman, who propelled the business from a $4.7 million enterprise in 1967 to $1+ billion in sales when he retired as company president to become chairman in 2001.

The preface and first 56 pages are a history of LL Bean, the business, starting with its 1912 origin as a manufacturer and mail order merchant of the iconic rubber/leather Maine Hunting Shoe invented by the author's grandfather, Leon L. Bean. LL Bean, the man, was born the son of a Maine horse trader in 1872, orphaned at age 12, and left school after the eighth grade to do manual labor and hunt and fish in Maine woods. LL's genius, after inventing his famous boot, was to sell products he wanted to buy himself and used a catalog he wrote himself to give customers - mostly city folks from the start - a feeling of connection to the rustic, outdoor life of the Maine woods even if they were just buying a sandwich knife (whatever happened to the one I bought from them?). When I visited the Freeport, ME store as a teenager in 1964 my father pointed out a handwritten note tacked to a door leading from the store to stockrooms that read "Keep this d--n door shut! LL Bean." In 1967, Mr. Bean, well into his 90s, passed away with his hand still firmly on the helm of the business. Almost immediately Carl Bean, second in command under his father, LL, also passed away. So Leon Gorman, a Colby College graduate who joined the company in 1960 after a three-year stint as a Navy officer, became head of the family business. Any loyal LL Bean customer will enjoy this much of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Leon Gorman, grandson of LL Bean, tells the tale of his ascension and rein as President & CEO of this American icon. The story is clearly told from Gorman's very personal perspective. During his 40 year tenure he takes on his own iconic role as a strong centralized decision maker and micro-manager, substituting himself for the powerful personality of LL Bean - but trying to not change much along the way. Having caught the same disease as his successful predecessor, Gorman involves himself in virtually every aspect of the company as it grows from $30 million to a billion dollars in revenue, retarding the growth of most of the company's aspiring management talent.

While the tale seems logical and true to life, the format is disjointed, with editorial insertions from managers who are supposed to be speaking their mind but never wander far from what appears to be Leon (Gorman) accepted opinions. Most add glowing praise for Mr. Gorman and seem to have been inserted to make the author feel better about his dictatorial style.

But the history of LL Bean is both interesting as well as informative. Assuming you can navigate through the bumpiness and filter out the propaganda, you can probably find some interesting lessons about family owned businesses and how to and not to pass them down through the generations.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has grown up in Maine has grown up with L.L. Bean. Living here all my life, I was well aware of the success story of this legendary Maine retailer. I was genuinely interested in reading this book by Leon Gorman, Chairman, former President, and grandson of Leon L. Bean. After all, Gorman took over the business in 1967 and ran it for more than 30 years. During his tenure, the company experienced tremendous growth. In 1967, sales were $4.75 million - in 1975, sales were $30 million. Just 5 years later, this figure surged to $121.5 million. The year before Gorman stepped down as President in 2001, sales had reached an astonishing $1.169 billion. (I was pleased to read in the January 2007 issue of Down East magazine that net sales in 2005 were 1.47 billion, up 4% from the previous year.)

I had lots of questions: what was Leon L. Bean really like? How does a company gladly accept returns - no matter how long you've owned the product - without question? And above all, how did Gorman lead this company through such astronomical growth and still maintain its appealing corporate identity? I'm pleased to report that Gorman answers all these questions and many more in this informative book.

For those less interested in the business side of things, Gorman offers a behind-the-scenes look at his grandfather, L.L., while working at L.L. Bean from 1960 to 1967, the year L.L. passed away. In 1962, when L.L. was ninety years old and Gorman was still in his twenties, he described his grandfather as one who "rarely delegated any responsibilities. It was clear what he wanted done because he made all the decisions. He fully enjoyed his company and his reputation as a Down East merchant."

Gorman writes:

Because L.L.
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