FREEPORT, Maine - Outdoors retailer L.L. Bean is going outside the company for the first time in its 103-year history for its new CEO, tapping the chief merchandising and marketing officer of a Chinese e-commerce business, officials said Tuesday.
L.L. Bean Chairman Shawn Gorman made the announcement to workers in a memo, telling them the L.L. Bean family and board unanimously agreed to hire Stephen Smith from Chinese online grocer Yihaodian.
"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," Gorman told workers on Tuesday in the memo provided to The Associated Press.
Smith will take over his duties in January, replacing Chris McCormick, who has served as CEO for 14 years.
McCormick, who last year announced his plans to step down, was the first person outside the Bean family to serve as president and CEO. However, he'd worked at L.L. Bean for more than a decade before being tapped to lead the company. He took over from L.L. Bean's grandson Leon Gorman, who retained the title "chairman emeritus" when he died in September.
Last year, Gorman said the retailer would look for a successor both inside and outside the company, but he said his preference was to promote someone from within L.L. Bean who's familiar with company culture and "the Bean way of doing things."
But the company was impressed by both Smith's understanding of L.L. Bean's culture as well as his background in multi-channel retailing, having worked for international supermarket owner Delhaize and Wal-Mart International subsidiaries before going to work for Yihaodian in Shanghai. Before that, he worked for the Resort Sports Network and the Hannaford supermarket chain in Maine.
Leon Gorman met Smith before his death and gave his approval, said Shawn Gorman.
"Leon is one of the best judges of character that I know," Gorman said Tuesday. "Coming out of that meeting with Steve, Leon's words were, 'Steve's the real deal.' That carries immensely. It's high praise for someone who is somewhat reluctant with high price. Leon is a tough guy. So to hear that it's reassuring."
Smith said he believes in the company's customer-first philosophy and brings to the job a requisite love of the outdoors, having grown up fishing, skiing, snowboarding, canoeing and kayaking.
"Trust me, I feel the responsibility of being a great brand steward. I want to continue the legacy. You can't underestimate it. You have to understand that's what you're signing up for," he said.
Smith joins L.L. Bean as the company prepares for the largest number of store openings in its history.
McCormick previously announced plans to triple the number of stores to at least 100 by 2020. The push will include L.L. Bean's first West Coast presence with the opening of stores in the Pacific Northwest.
The Maine-based company was founded in 1912, when Leon Leonwood Bean sold his original Maine Hunting Shoe. The company had $1.6 billion in sales last year and has more than 5,000 workers.