FREEPORT, Maine (AP) — The first non-family member to lead L.L. Bean is planning to step down in 2016 after more than a decade as CEO, saying the Maine-based retailer is positioned for future growth.
Chris McCormick, president and CEO, told employees in a memo that he's giving early notice so there can be a smooth transition.
During his tenure, McCormick helped to transform the 102-year-old outdoors retailer from a catalog company into a multi-channel retailer that does most of its business online. He's also sped up the opening of retail stores, with 19 stores now in operation and plans to open three more this year.
The privately held firm is coming off its fourth year of consecutive growth.
"In this time together, we weathered the dramatic business impacts following the tragic events associated with 9/11. We also managed our way through, and even prospered (though with some sacrifices) during the deepest recession in more than half a century," he wrote. "The company has grown, is financially strong and debt free."
McCormick has been with L.L. Bean for 31 years, including 13 as president and CEO. He succeeded Leon Gorman, grandson of founder L.L. Bean. The current chairman is Bean's great-grandson Shawn Gorman.
McCormick said he was grateful that the family entrusted him with the company's operations.
"It was certainly a daunting experience to fill those shoes," McCormick told The Associated Press, referring to Leon Gorman, who's credited with modernizing the company after L.L. Bean's death in 1967.
Shawn Gorman said the company will look at future business needs and long-term financial goals before zeroing in on someone.
The retailer will look for a successor from both inside and outside the company, but Gorman said his preference is to promote someone from within L.L. Bean who's familiar with company culture. It would be difficult to get an outsider acclimated within two years "to the Bean way of doing things," he said.
With more than $1.5 billion in sales last year, the company is poised for growth. It announced in March that it's pumping an additional $100 million into its website, retail expansion and business systems.
"Now it's time to go out and increase sales and grab market share," McCormick said. "I like to play offense. During the recession, you had to play defense ... to make sure you live to fight another day."
As for his own future, McCormick said he's not sure what he'll do next, but he doesn't intend to retire: "There are other markets out there. There are other people to meet," he said.
The company's recent fortunes have tracked closely with booming sales of the L.L. Bean hunting shoe. The company continues to add workers at a Maine production plant to keep up with demand.
June Strohmeyer, a Denver resident visiting the flagship store for the first time, said Monday that she appreciates L.L. Bean's timeless style, customer service and durability.
And she's willing to pay for it. "It is more expensive but I don't care. I don't like what I see at Macy's, the Gap, or Old Navy," the 62-year-old shopper said.
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