Leon A. Gorman, former president of beloved Maine retailer L.L. Bean, died Thursday in his home in Yarmouth, Maine. Mr. Gorman, grandson of store founder Leon Leonwood Bean, is credited with turning the modest outdoor catalog company into a billion-dollar business.
After graduating from Bowdoin College and spending four years in the Navy, Mr. Gorman joined the family business in 1961. In 1967, he became president, taking over after the death of his grandfather.
Mr. Bean founded the company in 1912 in Freeport, Maine, as a way to sell his iconic hunting boot. A giant version of the boot, 16 feet tall, adorns the entrance to the company’s flagship store in Freeport.
As president, Mr. Gorman modernized and grew the business internationally. He became chairman of the board in 2001, relinquishing daily responsibilities to current president and chief executive Christopher J. McCormick, the first non-family member to run the company. Mr. Gorman retired from L.L. Bean as chairman emeritus in 2013.
Like his grandfather, Mr. Gorman was an avid outdoorsman, having hiked, biked, and fished nature’s attractions around the globe. One notable trip was on Earth Day in 1990, when he joined a team of climbers from Russia, China, and the United States to ascend the world’s tallest peak, Mt. Everest.
The expedition was called a “peace climb,” led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to have decades earlier reached Everest’s summit. It was organized to draw environmental awareness and clean trash left by hikers on the mountain, bolstered by a $100,000 donation from L.L. Bean.
A passion for preserving the outdoors has informed company culture for decades. In the last 10 years, the retailer has given away $26 million to national conservation efforts. Personally, Mr. Gorman donated $6 million to groups that included the National Park Foundation and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, according to The New York Times.
“Without Leon, Maine wouldn’t be the place it is today environmentally and economically,” Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told the Times.
When he became president, L.L. Bean had one store. Today, the family-owned business – one of Maine’s largest employers – has 47 stores outside of Maine, including 21 in Japan, and employs 4,500 people. And the century-old signature boot remains highly desirable among fisherman and urban dwellers alike. Demand was so high last winter, it sold out for weeks.