Bill Sims Company

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Remembering a dear friend…

This blog is the first of what we hope will be many, written by my eighty-eight year old father Bill Sims, Sr. Dad is the “Bill Sims” behind the company that carries the name.

Editor’s note: Bob Coleman was the President and CEO of Riegel Textile, a leader in the textile industry. Bob was notable for Servant Leadership and an emphasis on safety—a rare combination in the 1960’s.

W. Edwards Deming…would be proud!


By the early 1960’s, the textile industry in the United States was headed for trouble.

Running three shifts daily, inside hundred-year old plants, workers produced millions of yards of cloth. Inspectors* kept an eye on the speeding goods, looking for defects. When defects were spotted, looms were shut down until the loom “fixer” came and got the machinery humming again. During the “down time”, the defective cloth was removed and later sold as rags for 5 cents a pound. Paternalistic management viewed the loss as simply a cost of business. They thought that a weekly paycheck insured employees would report for work on time, produce quality goods, and work safely.

More than a decade earlier, Deming challenged the Japanese to involve employees in what he called “Statistical Product Quality Administration”. “Made in Japan” no longer meant inferior quality, employees exercised to stay fit, and they suggested ways to make their company more efficient.

Here in the U.S., textile leaders began paying attention. “Quality Circles” were formed where engaged employees submitted ideas for improvement. They received recognition for valuable input that would save millions. If it was worth doing over, then it was worth “doing it right the first time.” Signs on textile trucks read “ZERO DEFECTS – OUR GOAL!”

If the quality of the product was important, what about the quality of life of the employee making the product? Wellness and safety became critical topics within the industry.

One of the early adopters was Robert E. Coleman, then President of Riegel Textile Corporation.

The work we did for Bob centered on eliminating defects. But Bob’s number one priority at Riegel was always safety in the workplace. When I called Bob and asked him “Don’t you want to know the stats on how great your quality is at the Mount Vernon plant?” Bob replied “It doesn’t really matter to me to hear the numbers, I’m just happy to know that we are making the best quality product possible and my people are going home safe.”

Bob loved his people. I remember that at the time there were about 10,000 employees of Riegel. Bob could go to any of his plants and he would greet people by name. Needless to say, employees of Riegel loved Bob right back and employee morale was “off the charts”!

When Bob wanted to recognize an employee, he didn’t mind appearing at the plant any time of day to surprise the working employee. I remember one instance when Bob asked the family of a worker on third shift to meet him at the plant. He brought them down the factory floor, the employee’s wife, and his kids in their pajamas to witness their dad get an award presented by the company president.

Bob served as President of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) for one year. During that term, the textile industry received an award for being the safest place in the U.S. to work. He called me and said “Bill, you were a part of that”. That was just the man he was, generous. When the president presented this prestigious award to Bob in Washington, DC, on behalf of ATMI, he was permitted to bring one guest to the ceremony. He took a plant custodian with him.

It was an honor to work with Bob. I will never forget his care for his people, and how he wanted the very best for them. In return, they gave him their very best work and loyalty.

*In the 1940’s my wife Edna was a cloth inspector in Langley, South Carolina.

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