Leon A. Gorman

On the wall for all to see, are letters of complaint and praise from customers. Over the letters is a sign that reads “messages from the boss.”

This bold display supports the principles of Leon Leonwood "L.L." Bean, who founded the business in 1912. Bean counseled, "Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they'll always come back for more."

In 1912, Mr. Bean borrowed $400 to produce his now famous rubber-bottomed hunting boots. Bean designed the boots himself to keep his feet dry when he traversed the Main wilderness. The unique design quickly became popular with other outdoor lovers and the company became a successful venture. It employed 120 people and had annual sales of $3 million when Mr. Bean died in 1967 at age 94.

His grandson, Leon Gorman, became president upon his grandfather's death. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he came to Bean in 1961 after Navy destroyer service and a trainee job a Filene's department stores. He brought with him a new vision for the company. Hiring some aggressive young managers, Gorman pioneered the mail-order business that has sustained an annual growth rate of nearly 20 percent since he took the helm, and launched innovations in data base management and customer service. Now a giant specialty mail-order business, L.L. Bean serves as a model for the industry.

L.L. Bean relies on the many people who perform tasks more efficiently than machines and "who don't break down in the process," states John Findlay, Bean's senior vice president for operations. By emphasizing human potential, L.L. Bean has become the most successful and efficient mail-order business in the United States and perhaps the world.

They do it by placing a high value on the employee and the customer. Employee ideas are sought after and listened to, and have led to streamlining the distribution centers. Even seasonal employees are given substantial training. The company's ethical treatment of employees makes it an extremely desirable place to work - doubling the work force for the holidays poses no problem for L.L. Bean.

To L.L. Bean the customer is sovereign. L.L. Bean offers an unconditional guarantee: they will exchange anything for any reason. Orders are processed in two or three days, unlike most mail-order companies where two weeks is typical. And if customers have to call for any reason, they will find operators so friendly and courteous that they may feel as if they've made a new friend.

Uncommon in today's business climate, L.L. Bean remains a family held company. Three nephews, Bill, Jim, and Shawn Gorman are also currently employed with the company. It is unlikely that you will see LLBEAN on the New York Stock Exchange soon. Mr. Gorman has a broad smile when he declares, "Everyone seems happy with the present arrangement." And they plan to leave it that way.