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L.L. Bean’s secret: Learn along the way

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

You’ve heard from the Silicon Valley crowd that leaders move fast, and you’ve heard from the Slow Leadership people that leaders move deliberately. Which is it?

“With all deliberate speed.” Leon Gorman decided on that course for his grandfather’s company, L.L. Bean. Gorman took the old “doing-what-you-know” formula and combined it with continuous learning to pursue a “grow slow” approach.

Unlike his exuberant and charismatic grandfather—who started the company in 1912—Gorman wasn’t the outdoorsy type when he took over the company at age 32. But he followed two paths:

He stayed focused on the outdoors, rather than becoming a general merchandiser. Instead of limiting his technical gear, he rolled out specialty catalogs, thereby strengthening the L.L. Bean brand.

Since he wasn’t very knowledgeable as an outdoorsman, he had to “learn” the outdoors. He and his top people went hiking, camping, fly-fishing and canoeing, where they added survival techniques and new sports. They tested what they sold.

Growth proceeded deliberately. Gorman read, took business courses and seminars, and later studied the turnaround when he saw Lands’ End and Eddie Bauer on his heels. He adapted changes incrementally.

When he stepped down as president in 2001, Gorman had built a powerhouse that posted $1.2 billion in sales and returned 18.5 percent on equity.

Bottom line: Move aggressively but methodically, so you learn as you go.

—Adapted from “Keep Standards High, Treat Customers Well,” Marilyn Alva, Investor’s Business Daily.

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