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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A progressive management style in a textile mill

Pharis was reluctant to fire the mill workers he supervised. Instead, if they resisted his efforts to convince them to change their behavior, he would persuade them to quit. Pharis credits his training for this enlightened attitude, which contrasted with that of other supervisors.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Pharis, July 24, 1977. Interview H-0038. 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

CLIFF KUHN:
Did you ever have to fire anybody?
JAMES PHARIS:
Very few people. I talked more people into quitting than I ever did fire.
CLIFF KUHN:
What was the difference?
JAMES PHARIS:
I'd just tell them it was the best thing for them or something like that. Wouldn't have no record. I fired some but nothing like the other supervisors.
CLIFF KUHN:
How were you different?
JAMES PHARIS:
The first thing I'd do, when a man was doing something I didn't like I'd always have a talk with him and explain why he was wrong and he couldn't go on. Not let him build up to a place where I'd just have to fire him. Nine times out of ten I could get him to change his own ways.
CLIFF KUHN:
What kind of things…
JAMES PHARIS:
Anything. Just violating the rules. His attitude. If a man had the wrong kind of attitude, I'd always try to explain to him it was better for him if he wanted to work for the company to change his attitude and let it be towards the company. Then when he wanted to leave, he'd leave with a good name and could go somwhere else with a good reputation. Instead of tearing down his reputation at the place he was at and eventually leaving and nobody else would want him, that's the way I'd generally talk at him.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did people react to that?
JAMES PHARIS:
I'd say eighty-five to ninety percent of them agreed with what I'd say.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did this differ with the way some other superintendents handled it?
JAMES PHARIS:
Well, lots of times, lots of supervisors is like this: "I'm boss and as long as you look up to me and smile and bow your head when I pass around you like I am boss, you're my friend." I was never that way and I talked to supervisors about that. I worked with supervisors that come to me and told me, "Old so and so is getting too cocky. I'm going to tear him down and let him know who's boss." Well, I'd always explain to them, I didn't want nobody to think I was boss. They was helping me hold my job. As long as they done what I wanted them to do and worked with me, they were my friends.
CLIFF KUHN:
Why do you think there was this difference? Why do you think you might have had a slightly different perspective?
JAMES PHARIS:
Than the other people? Well, I don't know. Through my training I suppose. It never pays to be… in other words, if you get what you want, that's what you want ain't it? If you can get a man to work with you (I've always said I'd ten times rather have a bunch of people working with me than for me) if they work with you, they'll help you. Now take for instance, I just want to get on a little something. You ain't got that thing on have you?
CLIFF KUHN:
I could turn it off you want.
JAMES PHARIS:
No, it doesn't make no difference now. Take for instance talk about people working with you. I want to tell you something that happened in South America. The efficiency was down a little bit and them people over there are not like they are over here. There ain't nothing pushy about them. They just work and they like the fiestas. They like to rest and just takes things. They don't push nothing. Well, I wanted to get my production over there up. Everything got to running pretty good, I wanted to get my production up. To show you how they was working with me—I got them all together and had a talk with them and asked them to put a little more push in it and to get one thing in their minds—when the loom was standing, they weren't making no money and the company wasn't making no money. To get it in their mind—one thing is to keep that loom running. If it stopped to get it started quick as they could. That was what I was selling them on. I told them I wanted to get their figures up some. It wasn't where it ought to be. About two weeks after that, I got a weekly efficiency report with a hundred and ten percent off the Draper looms and about ninety-eight or nine off the loom. Well that's impossible you know and I knew it and I went back to see what was the matter. You know what was the matter? We were only running two shifts then. Them people was getting up around three o'clock in the morning and coming to the mill to help me get the production up. Now that's how they were working with me. That's all by treating them nice. I had to stop them coming in. I got into one of the dangdest jams you ever heard of about it. Greensboro, some way or another, got the report sent out like that and they were writing over there to find out what it was all about. When I come over there on a vacation one summer, I went up to Greensboro. The manager of the foreign plant, he says, "Pharis, there's one damned thing I want you to explain to me and Mr. Love. How in the hell you got one hundred and ten percent on those draper looms over there and nearly a hundred off the loom." I explained it to him, how it happened. That's working with you and working for you.