HIGHTOWER: Malden Mills Is Back!

Fortune, Forbes and other business publications usually feature the Stars of Corporate America on their covers -- people like "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap of Sunbeam, notorious for whacking thousands of workers, or Philip Knight of Nike, notorious for exploiting sweatshop labor in the Third World.These "CoverBoys" embody the essence of today's corporate ethic: Run over anyone and anything to jack-up your stock prices and profits. Wall Street hails such executives as great leaders.But are they? Does a top executive competing in the new global marketplace have to be "lean and mean?"Aaron Feuerstein can answer that question, but his answer is not one that Wall Street wants to hear, so you won't find his picture on the cover of Fortune or Forbes.Feuerstein is owner and CEO of Malden Mills, maker of a synthetic fleece used to insulate winter clothing sold by such outlets as L.L. Bean. It was a $400 million a year business ... until December 11, 1995.That night, Malden Mills went up in flames, and the future suddenly looked bleak for the 3,000 people who worked at the mill and for their small town of Methuen, Massachusetts. But Mr. Feuerstein surprised everyone -- not only did he vow to rebuild the factory, but also to keep paying the full wages and benefits of every employee while he rebuilt.What a waste, howled Wall Street, and what a fool Feuerstein is! But 20 months later, Feuerstein's totally modernized mill has opened with practically every worker back on the job. Proud to work for a quality company that stood by them, employees sought training in the interim, and their productivity is at an all-time high. Bottom line: Malden Mills' sales are projected to be up 25 percent next year.This is Jim Hightower saying ... What Aaron Feuerstein did was to treat employees as an asset ... not as throwaway commodities. It's not compassion he showed, but good business sense.Source:"Fire-ravaged textile company reborn" by Richard Lorant. Austin American-Statesman: September 13, 1997.

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