Tar Heel Tattler - October 2005

This move might be a shore thing
By Edward Martin

Chuck Hayes, the fiery-tempered executive who wrenched Guilford Mills Inc. into the big time, must be rolling over in the grave at Lake Lure where they laid him three years ago. That they’ve dropped Mills from the name — just call it Guilford — would be enough to send him spinning like the yarn his company used as the world’s largest maker of warp-knit fabric. Add to that the news they’re moving its headquarters from Greensboro to Wilmington.

Guilford — the company, not the county — is getting $400,000 in incentives, half from Wilmington, the other half from New Hanover County. But for a company accustomed to profits and losses in the multimillions — it made $43 million in 1997, its best year, and lost $160 million as it sank into bankruptcy in 2002 — that’s just icing on the cake. These days, in the age of e-management, the headquarters can be wherever the boss wants it to be. “There’s a proclivity for CEOs to locate headquarters where they’re comfortable,” says Carl Dyer, a UNC Greensboro professor who is an expert on the textile industry.

Spokesman Doug Galyon says Guilford is moving about 35 executive and administrative jobs — average salary, about $158,000 a year — to temporary quarters in Wilmington this fall. Insiders expect Shannon White, who became CEO in May, to move the rest of the Greensboro staff, about 40 employees, to the Port City when a new building is ready.

Galyon says the move will consolidate management near its largest plant, an 800-employee operation in Kenansville that makes material for the auto industry, the company’s biggest customer. Guilford employs about 2,700 worldwide. It has three other factories in North Carolina — in Greensboro (about 170 miles from Wilmington), Fuquay-Varina (130), and Wallace (35) — plus plants in Pennsylvania and the United Kingdom.

If the only factor were getting closer to production, Galyon acknowledges, the logical place for the headquarters would be Kenansville, 60 miles north of Wilmington in rural Duplin County. “I suspect living in Wilmington would be more attractive to the newcomers than living in or near Kenansville.”

Regardless, the relocation leaves a hole in the Triad psyche. Guilford, now a subsidiary of New York-based GMI Holding Corp., was founded in Greensboro in 1946. Under Hayes, who became president in 1968 and CEO and chairman in 1972, it grew to 18 plants and sales of more than $800 million.

“Chuck Hayes took the company from a small textile company to the Fortune 500 before troubles set in for the industry,” says Dyer, whose professorship — Hayes Distinguished Professor of Textiles — is part of the Guilford legacy. “It’ll have a huge symbolic impact here because everybody knows it. It was part of Greensboro.”