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January 23, 2010

The Mensch of Malden Mills

This weekend’s video post is only tangentially related to material that came before it - but as you should know by now, that’s never stopped me before.

I’ve been fortunate to review several products supplied by Polartec recently – such as this Cloudveil vest and this Marmot shirt, and an amazing Patagonia jacket I reviewed on FeedTheHabit. In researching the company a bit, I came across this little tidbit on the "About Us” page:

The company acquired the assets of Malden Mills Industries, Inc, providing employment to its workforce and continuing the tradition of fabric innovation for performance apparel and accessories.

It was the former company’s name that rang a particular bell in my mind: Malden Mills … Malden Mills … of course – the Mensch!

Several years ago, 60 Minutes documented the incredible generosity of Aaron Feuerstein, former President and Chairman of Malden Mills, the company that invented Polartec fabric. After a devastating fire leveled his factory in 1995, Feuerstein financially sustained his entire workforce – more than 3,000 employees – with full salary and benefits for the six months that it took to rebuild the factory.

Although it was amazingly uplifting, the story of Malden Mills didn't have a fairy tale ending: Feuerstein’s out of pocket losses, combined with the huge debt incurred to rebuild the factory and the predictable cash flow problems in the wake of essentially starting the business from scratch again, eventually resulted in bankruptcy in 2001. One of the first orders of business by the new creditors was to force Feuerstein to step down. However, this saga took place during roughly the same time frame as the Enron collapse and other shocking examples of Corporate American greed, so Feuerstein became something of a folk hero among blue collar workers for placing his workers' welfare over personal gain.

From time to time in the midst of our country’s current economic meltdown, I’ve wondered if any modern-day captains of industry would have the same kind of integrity and courage under fire (a bad choice of words, perhaps … but sort of fitting as well) that Feuerstein demonstrated. I've also wondered if the long-term prosperity of those employees was preserved by his gesture, or if he merely spent $25 million of his own money to briefly postpone the inevitable tragedy of layoffs for most of his workers.

Since all of this took place nearly 15 years ago, it’s uncertain how many former Malden Mills employees persevered to its modern reincarnation as Polartec, which has emerged as one of the most dominant players in the athletic apparel industry. For their sake - and because I like to cheer for happy endings - I hope that a lot of them made it to better days.

"The Mensch of Malden Mills", from 60 Minutes, revised by ARTzeinu (click to play):

And finally, a glimpse of the modern-day company that rose from the ashes of Malden Mills ...

"We Make It Possible" by Polartec (click to play):


Bob (Downtown Runner) 1/24/10, 3:40 AM  

I wasn't aware of that story. Amazing! I fear that kind of generosity and kindness is even more of a rarity than 15 years ago.

Thanks for sharing. Keep up the great blogging!

Dave 1/24/10, 11:25 AM  

that is crazy...I was thinking about Mauldin Mills last week....I did not realize they went bankrupt. great story...

MoralHeroes 11/23/10, 1:24 PM  

Putting his employees and his community first is such a welcome change to modern business practices. Thanks for featuring him.

Because of the great deed you listed here he is also featured as hero of the week over at MoralHeroes.org


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