This is his fourth start-up, and you can tell he’s in his element. Sitting on the front porch of his home here on Daniel Island, Paul Parker describes his CEO as "a visionary" and a person driven to success. But he might as well be describing himself.
Parker laughs and explains, "I tell people that I talk slow but I move fast," and listening to Parker, it’s easy to see why he’s been a major player in the extraordinary growth of Gildan Activewear, a Canadian based firm which last fall purchased the Mikasa factory off of Clements Ferry Rd. Were it not for Boeing, Gildan’s decision to open a major distribution facility would be the brightest new star in the Charleston galaxy ("yes, we were overshadowed a bit by Boeing") but Parker isn’t worried. He knows that his company delivers the goods – to its wholesalers, its retailers and its employees.
Some impressive numbers: when Parker joined Gildan a decade ago, corporate revenue stood at roughly $250 million. Today? The 2010 projection will place sales near $1.2 billion. And every year, save for 2009, they’ve enjoyed double digit growth, even through the sluggish economy. And check this: When Parker came to Gildan – after stints with Polo Ralph Lauren and Haines – the company had a 4 percent share of the U.S. wholesale market for socks, activewear and underwear. Today? It’s approaching 65 percent. No, that’s not a typo – they enjoy a near 65 percent share. And Parker, who used to shepherd the firm’s wholesale operation, now holds the post of Vice President of Operations, is in charge of forecasting, customer service and retail operations/distribution.
Gildan purchased the Mikasa plant in November 2009, and after a series of upgrades and improvements to the facility, started moving product in February this year. Currently, Parker and crew have hired roughly 150 employees, on their way to 250 later this year. The growth is swift, the product is strong and their market share is growing. And Parker is all smiles. His only pause? "You always wish that you could make things happen faster," but he’s clearly relaxed in his element – pulling a diverse group of people together to launch a new and exciting venture. "It’s a big plus to have everyone under one roof."
In all, nearly 30 Gildan employees have transferred to Charleston, and Parker can see the appeal. "My wife loves it here," said Parker, and it’s clear that he does as well. He and his wife Leigh Anne, both from the Winston Salem, NC area, had only been to Charleston once before, back in 1992 before they had sons Caleb and Aaron. But the return to the Holy City, and to Daniel Island, is wearing well. Parker was particularly thrilled that Leigh Anne and the boys decided to join him right away for the Gildan start-up – originally they were going to finish out the school year. But here they are, firmly planted in the community, and loving it.