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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Roger Gant, July 17, 1987. Interview C-0127. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Jordan used a more personal business model in his mill than the Gant family

Everett Jordan could keep his mill staffed at relatively low wages because he provided cheaper housing and lots of interpersonal contact with workers. His business model was more like the way Roger Gant's grandfather ran his mill, but the Gant mill had grown too complex to operate based on close working relationships.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Roger Gant, July 17, 1987. Interview C-0127. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BEN BULLA:
On wage scales, Roger, you were aware of how his mills wage scales compared to comparable mills?
ROGER GANT:
We compared them with ours here at Glen Raven a couple of times and generally speaking the wage levels were a little bit lower than ours, but we never did make a comparison of the total picture. Sellers furnished a whole lot more mill houses to its workers than we did and if you throw into the formula that an employee was renting a house for so many dollars a month, that offset, at least to some degree, the difference there may have been in the wage levels, or the fact that he had a pension plan many years before we did offset to some degree the direct wage level. We never did, I don't think, make a comparison on wages plus all benefits. And then of course the commuting and living costs for most of his employees was lower when they lived right at the mill than ours were where we had become much more urbanized and our employees were commuting from 10 or 15 miles or 30 miles away and our wages had to reflect those costs also. But I think he was able to attract better employees at a lower wage than we could. That may have been his personality too. People liked him and liked to work for him. If they had problems why he helped them solve them. He had a much closer personal relationship with the employees than we have had in many years. Back when my grandfather, or even my father and his brother were running the company the relationship with the employees was very close. My father would walk through the mill, and like Everett, he knew everybody by their first name and knew their children and knew what church they went to and knew what illnesses they suffered from, had a much closer personal relationship than we have now. Principally now because there are so many more employees it's just hard to know them.
BEN BULLA:
How many employees do you have now?
ROGER GANT:
We have about 3,000 in 10 or 15 plants from Georgia to the Virginia line and it's just hard to get to know them. I guess the real reason though is the style of management. I tend to manage from my office by paper more than by getting out in the mill and talking to the employees.
BEN BULLA:
Everett Jordan managed as a one-man type operation; many companies operate with committees or many key people who have much responsibility; didn't you find that to be true with Everett Jordan?
ROGER GANT:
Yes I think so. Everett, as I said earlier, created that mill from when it was shut down in 1927 until his death, it was his handiwork. He had hired all the key people; he had lived in the village with most of the employees and their families; went to church with them, and his relationship with that business was very; almost perfect illustration of the entrepreneurship at its best. He ran the business. Of course after he went to the Senate he turned a good deal of the management over to Ben Jordan and Joe Neel;but he ran the business. He was a one man show; all the decisions came up to him to make until he turned it over to Ben. He didn't always agree with Ben after that. And that's quite different from our organization; that's the way my grandfather and his two sons ran this business but it's become quite different in recent years because we just can't run it that way anymore. But Everett had this tremendous capacity for details and he could run the business that way, and if you can do it that's the most efficient way to run. You get very quick decision making and you get very quick reaction to your customers and you eliminate several layers of overhead so you enjoy the economies of not having all that staff. But principally it's the reaction time, you just cut down that time it takes to make decisions tremendously.
BEN BULLA:
An operation as large as yours could not do that could they?
ROGER GANT:
I don't think that operations as complex as ours could do it. There may be a few people that could run this company that way but I certainly don't have the capacity to do it that way. I don't think anybody at management level in this company has the capacity to run it that way. I'm sure there are geniuses that could do it. Everett Jordan would never have created this company. He wouldn't have allowed the business to get as complex as ours. Rather than going off in a dozen directions as we have done he would have gotten bigger and bigger in the yarn spinning business. Or maybe the combed yarn business; something very close akin to what he had, and he may have been able to run a company of our size as a one man show, but it wouldn't be as complex a business as we have.