Leaders & Success
Roger Milliken's Fortune Was Made In The USA
NYC-born Milliken assumed the family business in 1947 and guided the outfit toward 2,300 patents. AP View Enlarged Image
Good enough was never good enough for Roger Milliken.
"The largest room in the world is the room for improvement," was his favorite motto.
An early follower of Edwards Deming's total quality philosophy, the textile tycoon launched an improvement campaign in the 1980s that proved his point.
Manufacturing mistakes at Milliken & Co. dropped by two-thirds.
"It was startling to find that we could do so much better," Milliken told Time magazine in 1989.
With constant nudges forward, Milliken (1915-2010) boosted his handful of mills into the world's largest family-owned textile and chemical manufacturer, with 50 sites in seven countries and nearly 9,000 workers.
His company, which remains private, claimed a sweep of three top-caliber trophies: the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (1989), the European Quality Award (1993) and the Japanese TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) Excellence Award (1999).
- Built a woolen mills firm into the largest privately owned textile and chemical maker; named Leader of the Century by Textile World magazine in 1999.
- "Good is the enemy of best, and best is the enemy of better."
Milliken & Co. was named a top company to work for five times by Fortune magazine (2004, 2006-09) and one of the "World's Most Ethical Companies" by Ethisphere Magazine for four years (2007-10).
And in 1999, Textile World magazine named Milliken, who remained active as chairman of the company until his death last December, Leader of the Century.
What got Milliken noticed was his willingness to take a stand.
To promote American manufacturing while factory jobs shifted overseas, he spearheaded 1984's "Crafted With Pride in the U.S.A." advertising campaign and lobbied Washington for fair-trade policies.
An eight-time delegate to Republican national conventions, Milliken is credited with turning longtime Democratic South Carolina to the right by pouring on his intellectual influence and backing key conservatives.
He was a constant learner who championed higher education, serving on the board of trustees of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., for 50 years.
Early in his tenure, Milliken stared down alumni who threatened to pull donations if the college desegregated in the 1960s. "At that point in the South, it was seen as a potentially damaging decision. But Mr. Milliken said he would cover any losses," Wofford President Benjamin Dunlap told IBD.
Did Milliken have to put his money where his stand was?
"I don't know if it was indeed necessary for him to put steel in people's spines," Dunlap said, but the college proceeded to desegregate.
Nothing could stop Milliken when he was on a mission.
"The joke is a Milliken half-day is from 8 in the morning until 8 at night," his oldest son, Roger Milliken Jr., told journalwatchdog.com in 2009.