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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edward L. Gruber, November 11, 1985. Interview C-0136. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Learning the business from the inside out

Gruber explains how he learned the business and inner workings of Spring City Mills when he first went to work there in 1932. Emphasizing how his father encouraged him to just jump in, Gruber describes how he sought to learn company operations at all levels. In so doing, he emphasizes his hands-on approach to business and demonstrates his close understanding of the way his business ran, thus foreshadowing his success in expanding the business over the next several decades.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edward L. Gruber, November 11, 1985. Interview C-0136. 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

I got married the day after I got out of college and we went up to our place in Canada and came back ten days later and went to work and have been working there ever since. On the first day at work - I knew my father got there early so I thought I'd get there early too - I walked into the office at 5:30 and my father looked at his watch and he says, "This is a helluva time for anybody to come to work the first day on the job! you must want a job awful damn bad if you can't get to work on time." This was 5:30 in the morning. So the next morning I got there at 5:00 - he was still there. The first day I was there I asked him what I was supposed to do. There was a little old office there with an old oak dest in it; wasn't a piece of paper on it; no pad on it; just empty. Empty drawers. There was a note pad and two lead pencils - he said that's your desk out there, go to work. I said, "What am I supposed to do." He said, "You must have a helluva good education if you can't find something to do around this place." So, I got out and I just started walking around through the plant. I started on the top floor in the cutting department and I walked all around down through the mill and wound up down in the basement. There was an old man down there making wooden cases - my life has paralleled my father's so often, and the older I get the more I realize how much we are alike; I see it happening all the time. I used to think that we were just the opposite, but the older I get the more I realize - and my wife says I'm just like my father was - there were about three men standing there waiting for the old man to make the wooden cases, but they didn't bother helping him none, so I picked up a box of nails and started helping him make cases. Within about an hours time we not only had the cases they wanted - they used to send down a piece of paper with the cases they needed listed. He was supposed to keep some of every size on hand. Well we made cases all morning long and we had cases piled all over the place. There wasn't any place to put them so I jumped in the elevator - we had one of those old elevators - and I went up on the first floor where they were packing. They had several cases sitting there part full and I asked them about it and they said they were short 2 dozen of size 44, etc. So I went looking for the guys that take care of the folding and the pressing and boxing and I asked them where such and such size was and I go find it and take it over to them so they could get that order out. Then go get another order finished; then go get another order finished. We go to the point I asked this fellow - they didn't come down from the sewing room yet. This all happens all in one day. So I go up to the second floor and ask the foreman of the sewing department. I said, "look, they are waiting for some size 44 - this was all women's underwear at that time - I say's size 44 women's bloomers or whatever it might be, and so I carried him around - maybe all they needed was just a label sewn in - carry them over to the girl and get the labels sewed in and take 'em down and finish that order, and find out what they were waiting for now. So I ran back and forth from cutting to sewing to packing to try and cut down on the down time. And then to the bleach house, and found that the cloth they were waiting for had been there two weeks with new cloth piled up in front of it. So we dug that out and got it bleached real quickly then back to the knitting room. And back and forth - everybody was just doing the easy thing first - so spending a couple of weeks like that, I got to know real quickly what the hell was going on around the plant. That's how I learned the underwear business in just about two or three weeks just by finding out what was wrong. Everybody being out of stuff. As far as I was concerned the main thing was to get those orders out the back door. I used to go down there at night and look over the orders and find out where everything was and leave word for them when they came to work the next morning what had to be done first so that we could get these orders moving.