The media storm over the call for a boycott of L.L. Bean follows a relatively recent reorganization of the 105-year-old company.

In an address to the Portland Regional Chamber in September, Executive Chairman Shawn Gorman spoke about the company’s governance, and its recent restructuring to both modernize the company and provide a conduit for family input.

He referred to the structure of the company in a recent Facebook post, by noting that no one member of the 10-member board – such as Linda Bean – has undue influence on the company.

At the chamber function, Gorman paid tribute to his uncle, former company President Leon Gorman, under whom L.L. Bean flourished. Through his leadership, the company developed a corporate strategy and values that include integrity, perseverance, respect and service.

But having such a strong manager had a downside, Shawn Gorman said. Leon Gorman made most of the decisions, and the board, composed of family members, rubber-stamped management’s decisions.

“This resulted in an over-reliance on the management team to do it all,” Shawn Gorman said, and excluded family members who were not on the board but had a stake in the company and no way to influence its direction.


Although the company selected Chris McCormick to lead day-to-day operations in 2001, there was still no structure to integrate the growing number of family owners, or prepare for leadership succession.

Discussions between the third and fourth generations of Bean family members went on for nearly a decade, Shawn Gorman said, until 2011, when the board resolved to form a family governance committee and take a more structured approach to family leadership. The group hired consultants from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois to work on a structure that would allow the corporate values of Leon Gorman to be embraced, but also provide a mechanism for family members to have input.

Eventually, the company’s governance formed into three sections: management, now under the direction of CEO Stephen Smith; a board of directors, comprised of 10 members, including three independent, non-family directors; and the family governance council, which includes representatives of all member-owners.

The family governance council allows family members to discuss issues like return on investment and whether the company is meeting its mission and purpose goals, as well as gauge the company’s commitment to remaining family-owned.

The board develops long-term strategy for the company’s future and management executes day-to-day responsibilities.

The new structure provides “role clarity,” Shawn Gorman said. “Prior to governance work, there was often confusion. We had owners dipping into management issues.”

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