Academy of Achievement
Roger Milliken (October 24, 1915 – December 30, 2010) was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Milliken & Company, the largest privately owned textile and chemical manufacturer in the world with $4 billion in annual sales. He led the company for 71 years, and was heralded as the greatest leader in American textiles in the 20th century. Roger Milliken graduated from Yale in 1937 and immediately entered the family business. He started out in New York City's Mercantile Stores, in which his family had an ownership stake. There he made the rounds of suppliers, seeing to it that coats and suits ordered by the stores were delivered. He, at times, pinned up the hems of women's coats, all the while learning the business from the ground up. In 1941, he was given the stewardship of three small woolen-producing mills in Maine. When his father, Gerrish Milliken, died in 1947, the 32-year-old Roger Milliken succeeded him as President of the company. In 1954, he moved his family to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he would reside for the rest of his life. During his seven decades as the leader of Milliken & Company, he expanded the business from a handful of plants to 50 manufacturing facilities in seven countries. He coped with a depressed textile industry by creating and nourishing a culture of innovation, and the company held more than 2,300 patents in the U.S. alone. Milliken insisted on a dedication to quality and process control. He believed that "Good is the enemy of the best, and best is the enemy of better." In 1983, he launched the nationally known "Crafted with Pride in the U.S.A." advertising campaign. Roger Milliken was well known for his support of Republican causes and candidates, particularly those who favored small government and the protection of American jobs. Opposed to labor unions, he thought the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as unfair to U.S. workers even though parts of his company operated abroad. He helped plant the seeds of the Republican Party in the South, and famously talked Barry Goldwater into running for President. When the billionaire textile tycoon died, at age 95, in 2010, he wanted his epitaph to read, simply, "Builder." Roger Milliken participated in the 1982 Achievement Summit in New Orleans and spoke to the student delegates about his life as an entrepreneur.