Leonard Lee: 1938-2016

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(Click on the image to read the company’s tribute to its founder)

I was sad to read today of the death of Leonard Lee. He wasn’t a railway modelling enthusiast (not that I know of), but he did so much to make my hobby more enjoyable.

That’s because Leonard was the founder of Lee Valley Tools, one of those rare companies that, for me, does everything right. Lee Valley Tools offers high-quality products … excellent customer service … and a truly useful e-commerce site for shop-at-home convenience. It has always stood behind the products it sells: I’ve returned a few (mostly, because I realized I needed something different) and returns were always hassle-free. Like a good hobby shop (and for wood-workers, that’s what it was), Lee Valley Tools holds course and seminars to help its customers learn new skills. And it researches and develops new or better tools under the Veritas brand.

Yes, I could have built a layout without Lee Valley – but not as easily. Not as painlessly. Because when I needed an answer to a construction challenge, chances are I would find it at Lee Valley. And if I did, I could always buy with confidence.

What is less obvious about Lee Valley Tools is how it treats its employees. I’m sure there are examples of workers who were unhappy at Lee Valley – you can’t please everyone – but I have never, ever been in one of their stores or on the phone with an employee and had anything but a terrific experience with someone who is obviously knowledgeable and happy about doing the job that they do. Maybe I’ve been lucky. But I suspect the real reason is the work environment that Leonard Lee created – one that he described in a 2013 Globe and Mail article about executive compensation thusly:

You get tremendous loyalty from employees if they enjoy their work and they are participating in the income and they have the authority that they need to execute their job.

Written like that, it seems like a simple concept. But in the case of Lee Valley, this isn’t just HR lip service or PR bafflegab. And what a difference that can make.

Thanks, Leonard, for creating Lee Valley Tools (and opening a store a 25 minute walk from my house!) – I’m so glad that you did. You will be missed.

5 thoughts on “Leonard Lee: 1938-2016

  1. I’m with you there. Lee Valley is not just about the products, though they’re fascinating. That’s where I got those weird hinges I needed for my paint cabinet last week. Just being in the store you feel a positive attitude and a shared enthusiasm.

  2. I’ve shopped with Lee Valley for years, and it is obvious the man was doing something right. It’s a great institution.

  3. That quote should be laser cut into every boardroom table in the world.

    What a brilliant, pithy way to define a successful enterprise. What a memorial.

  4. Love Lee Valley Tools. I think if you looked at the tools and gadgets in my house and cottage you’d find many had their start at Lee Valley. Hopefully the company will continue to reflect the man’s vision.

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