Outdoor retailer L.L. Bean announced Tuesday that it has chosen a veteran retail executive with experience in China to lead the 103-year-old Freeport company.

Stephen Smith, Walmart’s chief marketing and merchandising officer in China, has been named CEO and president of L.L. Bean, replacing Chris McCormick, who has served in that role since 2001 and will retire early next year.

Smith, 45, will be the fourth president in L.L. Bean history, and the first outsider to lead the company. He is not a family member and has never worked for the company. He comes to Bean with an extensive background in the retail industry, including experience with customer relationship management, strategy, brand development, marketing and merchandising.

“Hiring a CEO who embodies the values of Bean was a top priority for the family and the board, and I am confident we have done just that,” said Shawn Gorman, L.L. Bean’s chairman of the board. He said Smith has a “deep understanding of and appreciation” for customer needs and “multi-channel retailing.”

The company’s sales in 2014 were $1.61 billion, the vast majority through the company’s website.

Smith lived in Maine when he led marketing efforts for Portland-based Resort Sports Network and Hannaford Supermarkets from 1997 through 2003. He said he’s been an outdoorsman all his life, skiing at Sugarloaf and Sunday River while living in Maine. He also enjoys snowboarding, kayaking, running, swimming and cycling.

“I do it all,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s been part of my life forever.”

Smith starts his new job in January and will relocate from China to Maine. McCormick intends to step down in February, giving the executives a month to make the transition.

During the interview process, Smith met with Leon Gorman, L.L. Bean’s grandson who had led the company as president for 34 years and died on Sept. 3. After the meeting, Gorman endorsed Smith, calling him the “real deal,” Shawn Gorman said.

Smith works in China for the Walmart-owned Yihaodian, a Shanghai-based online grocery business that recently has begun selling consumer products, appliances and apparel. Smith previously worked as chief customer officer for another Walmart-owned company, Asda, a large British supermarket chain.

Before joining Walmart in 2011, Smith spent a decade working in marketing and merchandising in grocery retail with Hannaford, Sweetbay Supermarkets and Delhaize Group in North America and Belgium. He also has had marketing and advertising roles at AT&T and at J. Walter Thompson, an international advertising agency headquartered in New York.

Smith began his career in New York and moved to Maine in the late 1990s when he joined Portland-based Resort Sports Network. Smith rose to vice president of sales and marketing at the company, which produced television shows for resorts. Later he moved to Hannaford Supermarkets, where he was director of marketing.

Smith said the biggest challenge L.L. Bean faces is adapting to changing shopping habits as new technology gives consumers more ways to buy things.

“The biggest risk as well as the biggest opportunity is to capture those customers,” he said.

Although the company has enjoyed explosive growth in recent years, its executives are not complacent, Gorman said. L.L. Bean is known for its superior customer service, but other companies are “closing the gap,” he said.

“We are fully aware of our strengths and our opportunities and the external threats against our business,” he said.

In an email sent Tuesday to the company’s 5,200 year-round employees, Gorman said the board of directors at the family-owned company was impressed with Smith’s consistent and collaborative approach to leading an “omni-channel” business, and with his focus on customer service.

“He has a deep understanding and appreciation for customer needs in whatever venue the customer chooses to shop, which is well-aligned with our approach here at L.L. Bean,” Gorman said.

Omni-channel, or multi-channel, retailing refers to using the many threads in a customer’s shopping experience, including retail and online stores, the use of mobile apps, telephone sales and other ways of interacting with a customer.

Smith grew up in New York state’s Westchester County and moved at age 15 to Amherst, Massachusetts. He and his wife, Lynn, have been married for 18 years. Their two daughters, ages 15 and 13, were born in Maine when the family lived in Cape Elizabeth.


Comments are not available on this story.