An interview with Elliott Close, son of Hugh William Close.
H. William Close (1919–1983)
Under the leadership of H. William Close, Springs Industries, Inc., became one of the most successful textile manufacturing companies in the world.
A degree in business from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in 1942 provided Close with a foundation for his life's work, but he learned the fundamentals of the textile business in the sales offices and on the plant floors of Springs before moving into supervisory, technical, and executive positions.
Thus, Close endeared himself to thousands of Springs workers. He knew many by their first names. The chairman of Springs was like family, just plain "Bill," many recall.
Hugh William Close was born November 18, 1919, in Philadelphia, the son of Dr. Hugh William and Marian Lucy Crandall Close. He served during World War II as a lieutenant in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier Franklin, the most battered ship in United States Navy history.
Close had planned to pursue a career in advertising, but after marrying Anne Kingsley Springs November 23, 1946, he was persuaded by his father-in-law, Elliott White Springs, to take a job in Springs Cotton Mills' sales office in New York.
Springs later persuaded his daughter and son-in-law to move to Fort Mill. Close was quoted as having said about Springs' insistence that they move to South Carolina, "He never would come out and say, 'I need you' though he realized when Sonny was killed that he needed someone to succeed him." Anne Close's brother, Leroy "Sonny" Springs, had died in an airplane crash in 1946 at the age of 22.
Close learned the textile business from the ground up, in much the same way that Springs had learned it from his father, Leroy. Springs had Close begin his training with the very basics of the cotton mill process. He also was required to work the longest hours of anyone in the company—from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In 1955, he began an intensive period of training in the financial aspects of the textile business under Springs' tutelage, and Close was thoroughly prepared to assume the presidency of Springs Cotton Mills when his father-in-law died in October 1959.
During Close's leadership, Springs had its greatest period of growth. With a $250 million program of modernization and expansion, the company grew from eight plants and sales of $186 million in 1959 to 22 plants and sales of $293 million in 1969, when Close became board chairman. During that same period, Springs built a 21-story sales headquarters building in New York, listed its stock on the New York Stock Exchange, and consolidated its sales and manufacturing organizations into one company called Springs Mills, Inc.
Close believed in good public relations, and he committed himself to tirelessly telling the public the story of American textiles. In 1963, he was named Textile Man of the Year by the New York Board of Trade.
After becoming Springs Mills' chairman in 1969, Close devoted much of his time to long-range planning, diversification, international operations, and textile industry trade issues.
He served as president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute and later as chairman of its International Trade Committee and adviser to the United States government on trade issues and negotiations. He was also a member of the government's Management–Labor Textile Advisory Committee.
Close was a vice president and honorary chairman of the South Carolina Textile Manufacturers Association.
He was a member of the boards of the South Carolina Foundation for Independent Colleges, the North Carolina Textile Education Foundation, and the J. E. Sirrine Foundation.
He was a charter member and former chairman of the University of South Carolina Business Partnership Foundation, and one of the towers of USC's College of Business Administration was named for him in 1983.
Close also served as chairman of the University of South Carolina president's National Advisory Council. In 1967, USC awarded him an honorary doctoral degree, and he was named an honorary life member of the USC Alumni Association in 1981.
Close served for 11 years as a member of the South Carolina Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Commission.
He received many awards for industrial and civic accomplishments, among them the South Carolina Order of the Palmetto and the North Carolina Distinguished Service Award. Close was the first non-Tar Heel to be so honored.
Close was chairman of the Springs Company, the Lancaster & Chester Railroad, Springland, Inc., L&C Development Company, Carolina Loan & Realty, and Kanawha Insurance Company, and a director of the Carolina and Northwestern Railway.
He also chaired three charitable organizations: Leroy Springs & Company, the Elliott White Springs Foundation, and the Frances Ley Springs Foundation.
A member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Close and his wife reared eight children: Crandall, Frances, Leroy, Patricia, Elliott, Will, Derrick, and Katherine.
Close died August 17, 1983.
He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1987.
© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame