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In Summary

Van May

Van May

It was one year ago that I began talking to our board chairman about needing to make a change in lifestyle and thus this being my last year as your CEO. It is hard to imagine that a year has passed, but the time has now come for me to turn the page.

How do I sum up the 26 years of my career here in one brief column, or even the last 12 years as your CEO? I can recount some of the high points but believe I will skip the lower points. In that amount of time, you have plenty of both.

Let me start by first saying thank you to the many of you who have continually shared your concern and prayers with Cindy and me these past couple of years. As many of you know, when you have to face mortality up close it is often on the prayers of others that see you through. We really didn’t plan to start slowing down at this stage of our journey, but, as Cindy put it to me, sometimes life gets in the way of our plans. True enough. I can recount some of the things I like from my time as chief executive: about $300 million in cash payouts, almost a quarter of a billion in net margins, market share growth in all our trade territories, and so on. But the parts I care about most are more subjective.

Foremost, I am proud of the people with whom I have served, both on the staff and among the elected members you chose to work with us. When all the numbers have been forgotten, and all the cash has been spent, the enduring friendships I have made with so many of you will remain. That’s a real legacy.

I am very pleased to have been involved on your behalf in the international trade debate that currently defines so many of our opportunities and challenges. I plan to continue this work with the blessing of the board and management here. I have such a passion for the issue I can’t quite give it up yet, and I don’t intend to. I cannot sit idly by and watch our entire U.S. manufacturing base be given away as we reward countries who cheat on the trade rules while those who play fairly are allowed, and even encouraged, to give up on America and move abroad. Those are still fightin’ words for me.

I am please that we have been able to make the hard decisions necessary to keep our textile operation solvent in a tough business climate. It hasn’t been much fun of late, but as we have watched about two-thirds of our domestic textile industry go out of business or file for bankruptcy, it is a tribute to many of our hard-working people that we haven’t had to take that kind of action. I continue to believe that we can provide value in this arena into the future and that good things lay ahead for those of us who can sustain in today’s difficult market.

Finally, I am glad to have been part of the cooperative family. Like any family, things are not always perfect, and there are disappointments along with successes. But, being part of a system where we collectively do for each other much more than any of us could do singly has always provided a big emotional payoff for me. Making a difference for others is the sort of thing life should be about. Even when we have failed, the motive of trying to make a difference was pure, as it should be.

Thank you for allowing me to be part of that type of endeavor for 26 years. I wouldn’t take for it. God bless, and I’ll see you around.

Van May