October 05, 2006

Gary Comer, Lands' End

Many of my readers already know by now that Gary Comer, founder of Lands' End, passed away after a battle with cancer.

While I didn't have a personal relationship with Mr. Comer, I did learn just about everything I know about database marketing and direct marketing from his disciples. I can honestly say that the culture Mr. Comer created at Lands' End was the absolute best culture I have worked in during my career. His disciples have gone on to do great things, both at Lands' End, and at leading direct-to-consumer merchants.

Hopefully, Mr. Comer knew how many lives he impacted. Tens of thousand of people worked at Lands' End over the years, and countless individuals benfited from Mr. Comer's philanthropic activities. Well done, Mr. Comer. May God smile upon you.


  1. I began working for Lands' End as an intern back in 1996 thinking I would be there for a few months, and ended up staying almost ten years. Almost immediately after starting, I was smitten with a company whose people and culture were so positive that they were almost unbelievable. I shook hands with Gary a few times over the years, but you did not need to be in his presence to feel his impact within the company.

    To me, he was the embodiment of the philosophy that treating your employees and your customers well would directly result in a successful business. This culture made me choose Lands' End over numerous other offers after graduate school, which I consider one of the milestone choices of my career.

    It was a bittersweet day at Lands' End when Gary sold the company to Sears. We all felt the angst of knowing we were somehow losing something important, but were also happy that Gary was reaping personal rewards that could only partially repay him for all of the lives he had touched.

    I have often used the term "diaspora", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora, to describe the mass-migration of former Lands' End-ers away from Dodgeville, WI to other businesses throughout the country. In general, the amazing thing these fellow Lands' End alumni all have in common is that they have carried the principles of customer service that Gary instilled in them to whatever new companies they are in now. Additionally, even the non-direct marketers within the group seem to all believe on at least some level that their new companies need to have an awareness of things like the dynamics of their customer file. Not surprisingly, the majority of them are also in much higher positions in their new companies than they were at Lands' End. I believe this an indication that the culture Gary created was so special that people, sometimes even unconsciously, actually slowed down the pace of their career growth just to remain a part of it.

    I once had a great manager, after Sears purchased Lands’ End, say you should never fall in love with your company since it cannot love you back. However, occasionally a special person like Gary can make people do just that. I imagine I will not be the only person who finds himself or herself at choked up over the next few days upon hearing the news of his passing. We have lost one of those special men who managed to create a business version of Camelot – almost like a legend now that it is gone, but unforgettable for those of us lucky enough to have been there when it existed.

    Thank you Gary.

  2. Diaspora is an interesting term to use. I have worked at five companies since college. Each company had folks leave. Lands' End had a disproportionate number of folks leave, and become leaders elsewhere.

    The transition from working in the Lands' End culture to being a leader at another business is something worthy of a Harvard Business Review study.

  3. I too had the pleasure of working at Lands’ End for over 8 years, starting a year after (and having the pleasure of working with) TavPaul. During that time some of my most valuable lessons were learned. None directly from Gary, but always knowing that they came from his simple edicts…

    1) Do what’s right for the customer
    2) Do what’s right for the employee
    3) The rest will take care of itself

    We were made to believe in these simple edicts, and follow them in every action we took. Why? Well, it was very simple. Happy customers become loyal customers. Happy employees, become loyal employees.

    Something had to differentiate Lands’ End from the rest of the direct marketing merchants. Well, it was the fact that every employee did their very best to make satisfy the customer. And, the customer’s purchased our products over competitor because of the quality of service provided from every employee. Oh, and the product was pretty good quality too… (for those merchants reading)

    Most of all, what really drove me to be a loyal employee of the pre-Sears Lands’ End were the leaders – executives and otherwise. Many of those leaders still reside there, and many have moved on. However, I always trusted them to do what was right, not easy, but right. That is why I can call many of them good trusted friends, as well as great leaders.

    Mark Twain said it best - “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

    I’m astonished….

    Thanks, Gary….

  4. I forgot about "the rest will take care of itself"!


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