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Top job still a family matter at L.L. Bean

Shawn Gorman

Shawn Gorman

FREEPORT, Maine — L.L. Bean’s grandson Leon Gorman is retiring as chairman of the outdoors retailer after more than a half-century as the company’s chairman, but the privately held firm is keeping the position in the family.

The Maine-based company informed its 5,000 full- and part-time workers Monday that Bean’s great-grandson Shawn Gorman is the latest family member to serve as chairman, underscoring a commitment to family ownership in an era in which most large retailers are publicly traded.

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Gorman said there’s been a careful behind-the-scenes transition led by his 78-year-old uncle, Leon Gorman, who’s credited with modernizing the company after L.L. Bean’s death in 1967, setting it on a path of growth by transitioning from catalogs to online retailing.

‘‘Leon is a walking legend around here,’’ Shawn Gorman said. ‘‘He made this business what it is. I’m here to make sure it continues for the next 100 years.’’

L.L. Bean got its start in 1912 when Leon Leonwood Bean obtained a list of out-of-state hunters from the state of Maine and sent out mailings touting his rubber-soled hunting boots. He opened the first store five years later in Freeport. The company now has more than $1.5 billion in annual sales.

L.L. Bean’s family ownership is something of a rarity in a marketplace where consolidations mean more large retailers are publicly traded.

In Maine, Leon Gorman served for 33 years as president and CEO, and as chairman of the board for 12 years. He’ll retain the title of ‘‘chairman emeritus’’ and a seat on the board. Chris McCormick, the first CEO from outside the family, retains that position, which he’s held for 12 years.

Shawn Gorman, 47, is a familiar face at L.L. Bean, having worked for more than 20 years at the company in a number of roles before becoming senior vice president for brand communications, where he oversaw market research and advertising teams.

In Freeport, the story of a homegrown business remaining family owned resonated with some shoppers. ‘‘I just think it’s cool that such a big corporation can still be family owned, because when you think of family owned it’s usually a really small corporation or small business,’’ Laura Tims, who lives nearby, said while relaxing near a giant L.L. Bean boot at the store’s entrance.

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