The Voice of Business, Industry & the Professions Since 1942
North Carolina's largest business group proudly serves as the state chamber of commerce


Executive Profile

'We’re having to reach further and further for customers. I visit Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador trying to strengthen our company. You have to be right there to tell them what you do, how you do it — everything. If you’re not aggressive, they’re going to find someone else. You’ve got to work harder.'

The Will to Win
It's tough to make money in textiles 
these days, but Andy Warlick does 
by focusing on success

By Kevin Brafford

Andy Warlick’s life is the stuff of which best-selling novels are made — a former star quarterback who marries his high school sweetheart (a cheerleader, no less) and returns to his hometown, where he ascends to the top of the corporate world, raises two children (one girl and one boy, of course) and lives in a beautiful home high atop the hills.

The only flaw in that scenario isn’t his fault; it’s just that Gastonia doesn’t have many hills. Now if you want to talk weekends, there is a second home at Grandfather Mountain, a place where the president and CEO of Parkdale Mills goes to relax and on occasion sneak in a quick round of golf.

“I can be there in an hour and 45 minutes,” says Warlick, who turns 46 this month. “It’s like a whole different world to me, a place where I can get away. I love the time I have at Grandfather.”

Warlick wishes the visits were more frequent and for longer periods, but when you’re overseeing the operations of a textiles company — one that buys the most cotton of any company in the world — in a time when competition is fierce and margins continue to shrink, there is little rest for the weary. “I work too many hours,” he admits, “but it’s required. I don’t keep track.”

Similarly, Duke Kimbrell never maintained a log of his hours when he was advancing through the ranks at Parkdale. His career began at age 14 when he took on part-time and summer work sweeping floors and running errands, so the then-president and CEO’s interest was understandably piqued when a teen-age Andy Warlick showed up at his office looking for a summer job.

“He impressed you right away with the way he carried himself,” says Kimbrell, a 2001 inductee into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame. “He was always prompt and courteous, and he just struck you as being someone who was on the ball, someone who was going to make something of himself.”

When Kimbrell began searching for his successor nearly a dozen years later, Warlick — now 27 and riding repeated waves of success at Milliken and Company in Greenville, S.C. — seemed a natural choice. But Kimbrell knew it would be a tough sell, as he’d been trying to hire his son-in-law for years.

Anderson Davis Warlick and Pamela Leigh Kimbrell first laid eyes on each other in their ninth-grade year at Gaston Day School. This wasn’t love at first sight; instead, their relationship grew initially more from the fact that their class at the private school numbered fewer than 30.

“We were friends for a long time before we ever thought about going out,” remembers Warlick, the middle of three boys whose father had established a successful career in Gastonia in real estate. “The more we got to know each other, the closer we seemed to get. We were becoming best friends.

“I finally asked her out during our senior year. It was going to be the night after my final football game. But I broke my collarbone during the game, so that sort of put everything in jeopardy.”

Pam remembers a not-so-proud moment from that Friday night. “People were running over there to him after he got hurt, all worried about him, and all I could think about was, ‘Darn it, I’m not going to get that date.’”

But Warlick surprised her. After a trip to the emergency room, he was a late arrival — but an arrival nonetheless — at a school dance that same night. “He walked up and said, ‘I made it’,” Pam recalls. “Everybody was amazed.” The next night, Duke welcomed him at the Kimbrells’ front door to take out his daughter, and a courtship began.

Amazingly, Andy and Pam grew together while apart during the years that followed. She spent the next four years at Salem College in Winston-Salem, while he packed his bags bound for Charleston, S.C., to face the rigors of The Citadel.

“It was the right thing for me,” says Warlick. “It wasn’t that I needed the discipline; it was more that I really wanted the challenge. People who came wanting The Citadel to change them wouldn’t last.

“It was tough, and you had to be disciplined and resilient to make it through, particularly in the first year. It’s certainly not the right place for everybody, but it was the right place for me. If I had to do it over again, I’d absolutely go back.”

Warlick spent his summers working the first shift at Parkdale, rolling out of bed before sunrise to be at work by 6 a.m. He and Pam grew closer, and Duke and Dot Kimbrell came to think to him as their own.

“When he graduated from The Citadel, there wasn’t anybody down there who shed more tears than me,” Kimbrell says. “Seeing him there in that uniform, graduating as a squadron commander, boy that was something. I was awfully proud.”

 There was no wartime activity in 1979, so Warlick wasn’t commissioned. “I just didn’t feel the need to go further at that point,” he says. “I was thinking about going to law school, but I thought I should work for a couple of years and earn some money. And it’s a good thing, because knowing what I know about myself now, I’d have been miserable practicing law.”

He and Pam were growing still closer, yet all the while broadening their horizons. “The time apart was healthy for us,” she says. “We had our own space and our own lives, so we were able to be our own people. Yet we still always found time for each other.”

Kimbrell was ready to offer Warlick a job, but the latter wasn’t interested in coming home. So he accepted a position at Milliken, which Kimbrell says “has the best textile training school of any company in America.”

Warlick went into the company with a leg up on his peers. “I carried a lot of knowledge with me from my years of working at Parkdale,” he says. “I was accustomed to being surrounded by cotton — nothing but white everywhere — and now I was surrounded by different colored yarns. It was neat.”

He was sent to the company’s Columbus, N.C., plant. Columbus, located in Polk County in the southwestern part of the state, is a far piece from most anywhere, but thankfully it wasn’t too far from Pam, who was working on her master’s degree at the School of Design in Atlanta. Weekends occasionally would bring them together, sometimes in Gastonia, where the parents of a daughter who’d been dating a wonderful young man for more than five years could, ahem, meddle.

“Anytime Duke wanted to talk about something serious he’d want to go to the office,” Warlick says. “So one day he asks me to ride with him to the office, and I’ve got a pretty good idea why. Sure enough, we get there, sit down and talk for a little bit. Then he turned serious and said, ‘Dot and I want to know, what are y’all going to do? Are you going to marry her or not? You know she’s not getting any younger.’ Of course, the hilarious thing is that Pam was all of 23.”

The Kimbrells got their wish on Sept. 27, 1981. Pam and Andy Warlick honeymooned at the glitzy The Cloisters resort in Sea Island, S.C., then took residence in the sleepy little North Carolina town of Tryon. “I swear we were the youngest people there,” Pam says. “It was an eye-opening experience, you could say.”

Less than two years later, they moved to Spartanburg, S.C., when Warlick was transferred to Milliken’s Greenville operation, one of five promotions and three lateral moves he’d make over a five-year period.

Collins Warlick was born in 1986, very much the apple of her daddy’s eye. Her arrival got her parents thinking: Milliken had a reputation for transferring key people, and Andy and Pam weren’t keen on the prospect of having to move every couple of years.

Yet, the thought of moving back home still had one drawback. “I knew Duke was looking to hire somebody who could one day be his successor,” Warlick says, “and he’d been working on me for a long time. But I didn’t relish the thought of leaving everything that I’d accomplished at Milliken.

“When I left Gastonia, I left as Andy Warlick. I never imagined going back, and I certainly didn’t want to go back being known just as Duke Kimbrell’s son-in-law.”

Plus, life was good in Spartanburg. “The decision was totally up to Andy,” Pam says. “I was happy where we were. It did scare me because at any point Milliken could tell us to move, but I wanted him to be happy where he was and with what he was doing.”

The turning point came one weekend when Kimbrell — you guessed it — asked Warlick to go with him to the office. “I knew what we were going to talk about,” Warlick says.

“He said, ‘I need you up here.’ I told him I was flattered, but that I was doing well and had already established a name for myself, and that I didn’t want to ride his coattails. He told me that I had to put that aside and do what was best for his company and, in the long run, for me.

“So here I was, with the chance to be the heir apparent at Parkdale Mills. How many people get an opportunity like that in life? So I said OK.”

The “yes” came with an asterisk. “He didn’t want any special treatment,” says Kimbrell, who to this day is active within the company and maintains regular office hours. “And that wasn’t a problem, because that’s the way I do business. I knew what Andy could do, but I wanted him to learn everything along the way.”

Warlick says it was sink or swim. “He put me in the worst plant he had — in Thomasville. My instructions were either to make it profitable or shut it down.”

For six months Warlick slept at the Holiday Inn off old I-85 in Lexington and spent nearly every daylight hour at the plant some 15 minutes away. “I was fortunate in that their problems were easily fixable to me — we just had to integrate quality controls and management with the quality equipment that we already had. It was right up my alley, and in six months we went from the worst performing plant to the best.”

He moved back to Gastonia, then was shipped off to Harvard Business School for 13 weeks. When he returned, Kim- brell gave him the title of treasurer and Pam gave him a son, Davis. Two years later, Warlick was named president and COO, and in 2000 he was named CEO.

Parkdale peaked with 31 plants in operation in the 1990s and today maintains 28 plants and about 3,500 employees. Warlick fondly remembers his teen years when one of his first responsibilities as a part-time employee was “cleaning the tobacco spit off poles in the warehouse.” It’s why today he has a special affinity for those who put in their eight-hour shifts in the plant. “There are so many people who have given their life to this company working every day in our plants,” he says. “Those are the ones I want to make sure get treated right, because they deserve it. They’ve made us what we are.”

The landscape of the textiles industry has changed drastically, and Warlick’s role at the company has had to change with it. “It was a lot easier for us to make money 20, 10 or even five years ago,” says Warlick, who was honored in 2002 as N.C. State University’s Textile Man of the Year. “There is an oversupply of everything. We sell yarn today at sometimes half the price we did two decades ago. It’s unbelievable.

“We’re having to reach further and further for customers. I visit Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador trying to strengthen our company. You have to be right there to tell them what you do, how you do it — everything. If you’re not aggressive, they’re going to find someone else. You’ve got to work harder.”

Warlick says his time at The Citadel reinforced a work ethic and resiliency that has carried him throughout his career. “Anytime I’ve come up against a challenge in business, I knew I could handle it because of the challenges I’d been through before.”

Wanting to give something back, he led the consolidation of five factions into The Citadel Foundation, a four-year project completed in 2001 that has since yielded gifts to the institution of more than $30 million. “Andy did a magnificent job at an important time,” says Gen. John Grinalds, president of The Citadel. “He made sure we were all on the same sheet of music.

“Nothing he has accomplished surprises me,” adds Grinalds. “He’s done an exceptional job in living out what he’s learned here. We teach the principles of leadership, and he applies those in his everyday life. His word is his bond, and that’s essential to establishing a trusting relationship that’s necessary to make business — and family — a success.”

Despite a heavy schedule, Warlick has found some balance between business and pleasure. “I used to go years without taking a vacation,” he says. “Then some years back, a couple of business acquaintances took me aside and told me that I should slow down, to enjoy life and the time with my family, because I’d never have that time again.”

So the family skis and snowboards together, usually making at least one trip to Colorado per winter. And Warlick’s organized deep-sea fishing and trips for he and Davis with other fathers and sons. He likes to hunt, is passionate about mountain climbing, and on those two to three times a month when he makes it to the golf course, is likely to break 80.

Put those hobbies together alongside repeated business accomplishments and you have the earmarks of a fierce competitor. “I think I’m competitive in a different way,” he says. “My theory is that all people have a competitive itch; I want to find those who get that itch scratched at work — not on the golf course or somewhere else outside the office. I want to hire people who don’t want to lose.”

He wants to hire people, it seems, just like Andy Warlick.

Return to the magazine index

Visit us at 225 Hillsborough Street, Suite 460, Raleigh, N.C.
Write to us at P.O. Box 2508, Raleigh, N.C. 27602
Call us at 919.836.1400 or fax us at 919.836.1425

Copyright © 1998, All Rights Reserved
Last Modified: June 30, 2003
Web Design By The
Let Us Help You With Your Web Site Needs!