Maine Audubon executive director Andrew Beahm on why he traded Bean boots for binoculars
After spending 34 years at L.L.Bean, Andrew Beahm transitioned to another organization rooted in the state’s outdoors: Maine Audubon. Beahm, who served in a variety of leadership roles at the retail giant, most recently as vice president of business transformation, was looking for opportunities to lead a nonprofit when he joined Maine Audubon in 2016, first as deputy director and soon after as executive director. He wasn’t entirely new to the nonprofit sector, having served as a volunteer, trustee, and officer at different Maine nonprofits, including as chair of Maine Audubon’s board of trustees.
What inspired you to make the move from a for-profit company to a nonprofit?
The root of my move from L.L.Bean to Maine Audubon goes back decades and lies in several key life beliefs. One is that, in my finite years on this planet, I am very mindful of how I spend each moment: am I producing or am I consuming? I lost a brother and my wife at tragically young ages, and that caused me to be very conscious about using my limited time on this earth productively rather than passively. That correlates very well with a second belief: the importance of creating community. Rather than simply observe how the world can be better, I have always challenged myself to be in the game, to being part of the solution. Finally, my father organized his life so that he could begin a “second act” in his mid-50s. I saw how energizing and meaningful that was for him, so I set a goal of following his lead.
How did your experience at L.L.Bean prepare you for your role at Maine Audubon?
L.L.Bean is a company that is distinctive in the retail sector because it excels at strategic planning, product management, and near-flawless execution. It has tremendous core values, manages for the long run, and lives to please its customers. Starting in my mid-30s, I had the opportunity to work directly for former CEO and chair Leon Gorman. I was blessed to learn all of the skills and values listed above directly from an impressive human being who, frankly, personified them. Leon was also a great role model for community involvement. He also was smart enough to surround himself with talented people, and structured the conduct of the business in a manner that inspired and enabled them to perform with excellence. In my role at Maine Audubon, I’m the new guy. I’m surrounded by people who know massively more than I’ll ever know about our wildlife and habitat, and how to effectively inspire and engage thousands of people in the quest of protecting what is arguably Maine’s most important and distinctive asset. My role is to organize and conduct our planning and day-to-day work in a way that optimizes our staff and volunteer talent.
What was the biggest adjustment for you?
In the for-profit world you flourish on competition. I had many, many roles during my time at L.L.Bean. When I was VP of marketing, the competition was always in my field of vision. We watched each other like hawks. When I was in my officer role in heading up the treasury function, the competition was less visible, but I always envisioned myself going head-to-head with the people performing the same role at our competitors. I enjoyed that motivation to always perform at my best. In the nonprofit world the paradigm is completely opposite. At Maine Audubon, my job is to collaborate with my peers at other conservation organizations, not compete. The generous people who donate their hard-earned money deserve the biggest bang for their buck. Duplicating the work of other conservation nonprofits does not optimize scarce resources. Collaborating and bringing your own distinct core competencies to a shared table gets the most done for the least resources expended.
What do you like best about working at Maine Audubon?
In the nonprofit sector you have to be scrappy and resourceful—all day, every day. Like many Mainers, I grew up that way: I am from a family of seven kids. We grew up growing, raising, and foraging for our food. We cut, split, and stacked all of the firewood that we burned in a wood furnace that my father built from scratch to heat a house that my parents built in the year that I was born. One summer when I was a teenager, my father started coming home every evening with a load of scrap lumber in the back of his well-patinaed truck. He gave us each some large tin cans, a makeshift anvil, a pry bar, and a hammer. After working in the fields in the day, we would spend those long Aroostook County summer evenings pulling nails and spikes, straightening them on an anvil, and sorting the nails and lumber by dimension. Meanwhile my father hand-dug the foundation of what eventually become our new garage. It was hard work, but the results were very tangible. When I was 25, my brothers and I built my first home in Cumberland. Whenever I drive by either of those buildings, I remember the hard work, but that pales in comparison to the satisfaction of what we accomplished together. Working at a nonprofit is just like that. You have to be scrappy, determined, and resourceful—and you have to work effectively as a team. But you don’t think about the work; you think about the results. People who work and volunteer at nonprofits are, by nature, very committed and passionate. I’m honored to work alongside them. People who give to nonprofits are similar. They are the nicest people you’ve ever met, and they genuinely want to make the world a better place.