FREEPORT — Leon Gorman, who led L.L. Bean for more than four decades and oversaw its transformation into Maine’s most recognized brand, stepped down as chairman of the company Monday.

His nephew Shawn Gorman, great-grandson of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean, was named his successor.

Shawn Gorman, 47, said his ascendancy to chairman of L.L. Bean’s board of directors Friday was the culmination of a long grooming process “that has been in the works for about two years now.”

Leon Gorman, who is 78, became chairman of L.L. Bean’s family-controlled board of directors in 2001 after his 33-year tenure as president and CEO. He has been named chairman emeritus and will remain a board member, company officials said.

In a memo that Leon Gorman sent Monday to L.L. Bean employees, he expressed pride in having led the company for so long and said he looks forward to spending more time outdoors with his family.

“I am pleased that, after a careful review and discussion with family members over the past two years, there remains a firm commitment to continuing family ownership,” the memo said. “I am also confident we have the family governance structures in place to sustain the business through future generations of family owners committed to our stakeholder philosophy of doing business. Importantly, we have the family leadership capabilities, commitment and individuals ready to step into leader roles.

“I feel the timing is right for this transition,” he wrote.

Leon Gorman was not available for interviews Monday, said company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.

The board elected Shawn Gorman at its annual shareholder and board of directors meeting Friday in Freeport, where the company is based, but company leaders said the choice had been made long ago.

“As with Leon’s transition from president and CEO 12 years ago, this has been a carefully planned succession process,” said L.L. Bean President and CEO Chris McCormick, who will remain in that position. “The board election marks the completion of a family leadership transition process initiated by Leon two years ago.”

Shawn Gorman has worked in multiple areas of the company for 22 years, most recently as senior vice president of brand communications. He will step down from that position to serve as chairman full time, Beem said.

Jennifer Wilson, who is Leon Gorman’s daughter, and Nate Clark, Leon Gorman’s cousin, were chosen to be vice chairs of the board, said the memo to staffers. Wilson works in corporate merchandising in the women’s product area, and Clark is head of the family governance committee.

Shawn Gorman said he plans to maintain the company’s commitment to family ownership while redoubling efforts to differentiate the popular outdoor retailer from its competitors.

He started as an advertising analyst for L.L. Bean, then moved into its international sales division. He then worked in the e-commerce division before spending more than a decade running the company’s L.L. Bean Visa card operation.

As a privately held business, L.L. Bean does not disclose financial information. The company was founded in 1912 as a one-room operation selling a single product, the Maine Hunting Shoe.

It has since grown into one of the country’s largest merchants of outdoor gear and apparel through in-store, online and catalog sales.

Its 220,000-square-foot retail campus in Freeport is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and has more than 3 million visitors annually, according to the company.

Shawn Gorman said he doesn’t plan to change the company’s business strategy as much as he will reinforce the current strategy. That includes making sure the company stands apart from its competitors by sticking closely to its core product base of quality clothing and gear for outdoor use, he said.

“I want to make sure L.L. Bean is as much about L.L. Bean as possible, if you know what I mean,” he said.

Clothing retailers such as L.L. Bean face pressure to ensure workplace safety in response to the garment factory collapse last month in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 workers.

L.L. Bean says it uses one factory in Bangladesh, to produce a few of its outerwear items. Company officials said last week that they do not plan to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding contract signed by some of the world’s largest retailers, including the Swedish chain H&M, Netherlands-based C&A, and British retailers Tesco and Primark.

L.L. Bean officials cited their lack of a significant presence in Bangladesh and said the company has its own, strict standards for its contract manufacturers overseas.

Gorman said workplace safety “certainly is top of mind” and L.L. Bean requires the highest safety standards for its factories abroad.

“We’re only working with the most ethical companies out there,” he said.

Gorman serves on the United Way of Greater Portland’s board of directors and is board chairman of the John T. Gorman Foundation, a charitable organization established by his late uncle, Tom Gorman. The foundation donates millions of dollars each year to Maine-based community programs and projects.

Maine Medical Center President and CEO Richard Petersen, a Gorman Foundation board member, said succeeding Leon Gorman is a formidable task for anyone, but Shawn Gorman is an excellent choice for the job.

“I think he’s got superb people skills,” Petersen said. “He’s compassionate. He’s humble. He’s an incredibly intelligent man.”

Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Portland, said one of Shawn Gorman’s best characteristics is his deep commitment to Maine and the region.

“Without question, he will do a phenomenal job,” McCormick said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson