Milliken – Keys to Greatness

With the passing of Mr. Roger Milliken, we pause to reflect on why that one company was so successful.  It is often said that it is almost impossible to successfully continue a family business into the third generation, but this company proved to be an exception.  There are so many outstanding accomplishments initiated in concept by Roger Milliken that come to mind quickly. These are not intended to be in any order of importance:

Milliken research from the beginning in the 40’s developed many patents in an effort to develop new and innovative products in textiles and chemicals.

In the 50’s and 60’s when fiber producers were developing new products, Milliken was always one of the first to experiment. Company believed in synthetic fibers in blends with cotton, wool, and rayon. The first Visa trademark was applied to a Dacron/wool blend indicating ease of care.

All plants had latest available equipment.  He was first in line to purchase new equipment to lower cost and improve quality.  The ability to make decisions quickly was a huge advantage over public companies. Teams of managers attended ATME and ITMA machinery shows to look for new developments.

Outstanding safety record in its plants.  There was a constant effort to reduce lost time accidents.  Milliken had the most Five Star Safety Plants.

Extensive industrial engineering programs were installed by managers such as L.K. (Dinks) Fitzgerald which enabled the company to lower costs and develop internal standards and controls.

In the 60’s, the Company began extensive inventory control programs to lower investment, reduce closeouts, and improve service to customers. Inventory was something that nobody wanted. These were major problems in the global textile industry.

One of the first companies to use computer programs for production planning and work in process inventory control.  Later used computers for order entry and credit aspect of customer service.

Education within the company began in the 60’s.  The Company developed in-house training schools for management known as MOP (Management Orientation Program) and MMOP (Middle Management Orientation Program).  Interaction with managers at other locations helped solve problems. Top management went to executive programs at leading business schools.

A major objective: Executive slots were filled from within the company.  Extensive college hiring programs were conducted each year. It was not uncommon for the Company to hire more than 100 college trainees per year. You did not have to be a textile graduate.  Females were given management opportunities well in advance of other textile companies.  Cross-fertilization of disciplines brought innovation.

The Milliken Breakfast Show, initiated by Francis Kingsley, and conducted each year for about 25 years, was a Broadway production with at least 13 performances using Broadway actors and actresses.  The purpose was to display garments from customers who used Milliken fabrics.

Computer functions were centralized in a Management Information Center in Spartanburg in the 60’s before this was a popular approach.  Product managers were named to bridge the gap between manufacturing and marketing.

Energy conservation was a major objective starting in 1973 after the initial oil crisis.

Another internal item was Mr. Milliken’s decision to centralize shipping of finished goods from one location.  All finished goods were being shipped from the individual finishing plants.  He decided to ship the package from the finishing plant to a central location, consolidate and then release to customer.  As customers grew and wanted consolidated shipments Milliken was able to accommodate. The consolidated warehouse had a by-product in that separate management was in the position to insist the condition of packages that they received from the plant was proper. The consolidation also led to better and uniform labeling including bar codes.

Milliken won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1989 for outstanding performance in quality control standards.  The company was the fourth across all manufacturing to receive this honor.

Recognized as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For”-Forbes Magazine, and “Best Places to Launch a Career”-Business Week.