by Steve Feldman
It was the one interview for which I was sure to arrive early. In fact, I sat in the parking lot for 45 minutes. It was also the only one in 25 years (eight in the horse racing industry) where I felt a touch of anxiety. I pretty much had interviewed all the luminaries in both industries, in person or on the phone. Then again, it’s not every day you find yourself face to face with a legend.
As I climbed the steps to the second floor of the old historic City Hall building in downtown Dalton, I had no idea what to expect. After a wait time of about 15 minutes, I was led into a very large, bright, tastefully decorated office. My eyes shifted to a treadmill, then some golf-related photos and finally an adjacent room with carpet samples on the floor.
Robert E. Shaw is a fascinating individual. He may be the industry’s only person whose presence to this day still commands the respect of the title “Mr.” He is larger than life, yet smaller in stature than I ever imagined. He is approaching his 80th birthday yet appears more than a decade younger. He is a man who has been as influential to this industry as any. He carries a big stick yet is soft spoken. He is remarkably candid and charming. He is also probably the most brilliant person from which I have ever sat across.
Al Wahnon, in an exclusive interview five years ago, couldn’t have described Mr. Shaw more accurately: “He is determined, disciplined, aggressive and a brilliant businessman… He is committed to success; uncompromising when it comes to achieving.” Let me add that as complex an individual as Mr. Shaw, he can break things down to its most simple form.
For example, when I asked about the purchase of West Point Pepperell, which to this day he refers by the brand Cabin Craft—the start of mill consolidation—he simply told me in a mature industry, you either acquire or be acquired. He chose the former. When I asked why it was Shaw that was able to make the acquisitions, he simply noted that it was the one public company that didn’t have to spend its own money. He also noted that consolidation needed to occur because only if you get large enough you can backward integrate into the yarn business and extrude your own fiber.
When I asked about going into retail, he said he would do it again in a heartbeat. It was simply a matter of controlling the avenue to market vs. DuPont and the Stainmaster brand. He also said he was not surprised by the backlash from Home Depot and the groups.
There was a whole lot more, which you will find in our 25th Anniversary issue, but I found one thing resounding: The one question he couldn’t answer was about the mistakes he’s made. He couldn’t answer because he has spent very little time looking back and all of his time looking forward.
I told him I had been waiting 17 years to meet him. Mr. Shaw simply responded, “Well, I hope you don’t leave disappointed.”