Craft & Consumption

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The story of LL Bean

Earlier this month I finished a book called L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon. It was written by Leon Gorman, the grandson and second generation President of L.L. Bean who just retired in the last decade. 

Leon charts his personal course at L.L. Bean, from his first job there in his 20's to his eventual transition into the President role and then later the Chairman role. He gives an inside look into the values, mission, and idiosyncrasies of the Bean culture. He also speaks very candidly about the business decisions he made and initiatives he started while managing the company. The path was so interesting. Leon started off with an entrepreneurial mindset in the first 10 years of his tenure as President. He then ended up moving in a much different, more corporate direction as the business grew in size.

This book meant a lot to me because I too work for my family business. I grapple daily with the transitional challenges of the second generation learning, growing, and taking more responsibility within the business. It's so comforting to see how other American companies have successfully transitioned into the second and third generations.

I feel very connected to Bean after this reading adventure, I look at my old Bean Moccasins and my Bean Hunting boots in a whole new light. I'm even more enthusiastic knowing that Bean is celebrating it's 100 year anniversary this year. They're celebrating with a huge Hometown Celebration this week, starting July 4th and going until Saturday July 7th in Freeport, Maine. I'd like to stop by and say hello to Leon. He's kind of my hero :)

Some of the wisdom I took from Leon's writing:

  • "Growth for its own sake was a form of managerial adventurism and didn't interest me. On the other hand, I believed strongly that if we could keep adding value to people's lives, we had an obligation to grow." (p 111)
  • "I came across the famous Lao Tse quote on leadership during my early years at Bean. "A leader is best when people barely know he exists...When his work is done, his aim is fulfilled. They will all say, 'We did this ourselves.'" This concept seemed to fit my thinking on the ideal leadership outcome- the importance of humility and competence and of attributing success to those most responsible." (p 100)
  • "Service was important, and so were advertising and attractive catalogs. But they could never make up for faulty products and second-rate assortments, at least not for long." (p. 91)
  • "Our core value is trust. It goes to the essence of respect for people. It is what the Golden Rule and L.L. Bean is all about" (p 258)
  • "I should add that there's no shortage of resistance to process leadership. It's too slow, takes too many meetings, requires a lot of compromise, and wastes a lot of time. Many people, including me, simply want to leap to the next most obvious goal and not go through all of the process steps. But, as some wise person once said, 'The solution to a complex problem is oftentimes simple and it's usually wrong.' Process is important." (p 252)
  • "People support what they help create and vice versa." (p 235)
  • "Much of our initial Total Quality work was meant to break down functional barriers and teach people how to be good interdepartmental customers and suppliers...We couldn't do our best for our external customers if we weren't doing our best for our internal customers" (p 217)
  • "The perfect company was the ethically correct company." (p 105)

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