A Family Perspective

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I'M the second-youngest of six brothers. My dad owned a packaging company in Stratford, Conn., and most of my brothers worked there at some point, along with our aunts and uncles. I never did. Dad was selling the business by the time I reached my midteens, and he wanted me to get some experience elsewhere.

I saw how hard he worked and the rewards he reaped from that. We had a nice house and could take nice vacations, and I wanted to do something similar with my life.

My father paid for college for my older brothers, but I was determined to pay at least half of my college costs myself. I did so by working in construction during weekends and school vacations, with little sleep. I'm proud to have taken some pressure off my father.

My oldest brother is a doctor, and I thought I might enter that field. But I didn't care for biology or lab work, so I dropped the idea. While attending Fairfield University in Connecticut, I took a number of business classes and a psychology class that I really liked. I realized that the two fields were related; you can apply what you learn in psychology to business management.

In 1977, after graduating with a psychology degree, I thought I might work for a year, then go to law school. I got a job settling claims with an insurance adjuster, but hated it because it meant negotiating with policyholders and claimants and paying out as little as possible.

Next, I worked in the marketing department at Garden Way, a gardening company in Norwalk, Conn. My wife at the time was making more money than I was, and we had just bought a condo when the company asked me to relocate to Burlington, Vt. We took the risk and moved. While there, I saw a help-wanted ad for L.L. Bean in Maine. When the same ad appeared three weeks later, I applied and was hired as assistant advertising manager in 1983.

At first, I was uncomfortable because my predecessor had died, and I had to work closely with her fiancé, the head of the creative department. But he talked about his grief and we became friends.

I've been here 30 years and was promoted, on average, every other year before becoming C.E.O. That's part of what kept me here, because if you're not learning, you're dying. Every time I felt I was at the peak of the learning curve, the company gave me more to do.

In the late 1990s, Leon Gorman, a third-generation member of the family that started L.L. Bean, who was then C.E.O., made me head of the women's product line. I knew marketing, not products, but I realized he was developing me to become a senior leader. The first thing I did was surround myself with women who knew the product line and had good taste in clothes. In 2001, Leon became chairman and asked me to become C.E.O. Having grown up in a family business, I felt that I brought a perspective I could draw on.

Recently, we've moved away from the heavier down outerwear to less bulky products that still offer warmth. And while our print catalog still plays a huge role in our business, the biggest change since I've been C.E.O. has been the growth in selling on the Web. Thirty years ago, I'd visit the mailroom and look at the trays of incoming mail. I could tell how we were doing by the number of trays. Now I get hourly updates on the Internet.

When I met my wife, Beth, in 2007, I invited her to join me in some outdoor activities. We kayaked one day and went on a 30-mile bike trip the next. On a break while biking, I asked if she wanted to return to the house or head in a different direction. I thought that she was enjoying herself, but she said, rather sternly, "Let's get this nightmare over with." Now when we bike together, we keep it short -- around 15 miles.

As told to Patricia L. Olsen.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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