After the Civil War, when John Q. Gant came home to\n central North Carolina, he took a job at a cotton mill in\n Altamahaw. Throughout the 1870s, he bought up shares of the\n mill, and by 1880 he owned it. Facing stiff competition from\n the mills up North, Gant invested heavily in the one thing many\n of his Southern counterparts had largely ignored: the best,\n most cutting-edge technology on the market. In the late 19th\n century, the company\u2014today called Glen Raven and\n headquartered a few miles south, in Burlington,\n N.C.\u2014became one of the first Southern mills to dye\n fabrics (most others sent their cotton up North).\n MORE ON\n CIO.COM\n \n Read what CEOs from Dow Chemical, Defense Logistics\n Agency, NFL Films and the Philadelphia Stock\n Exchange have to say about IT strategy in the\n View from the Top Series.\n In the 1930s, Glen Raven started using synthetic fibers and\n began knitting operations, which eventually led the company to\n invent panty hose in 1959. The company has never been content\n with standing still, either. Today, it claims to hold\n significant market share with its durable Sunbrella fabric,\n which is used for restaurant awnings and outdoor furniture. The\n private company has flourished globally even as North American\n textile manufacturers\u2014in competition with Asia for a\n generation\u2014have largely fallen off the map.\n About Glen Raven\n Headquarters: Burlington, N.C.Primary business: Textile\n manufacturingEmployees: 2,800IT executive: John Duncan, VP,\n corporate information servicesIT employees: 25Key technology vendors: Jomar,\n OracleToday, John\u2019s grandson, Glen Raven CEO Allen Gant Jr.,\n 59, continues to apply his grandfather\u2019s philosophy for\n success: Invest in technology, profit from it, then reinvest in\n more technology. Only now, IT is just as critical, if not more\n so, than the latest manufacturing equipment. The strategy is\n paying off for this mid-market company (which does not disclose\n its revenue). Glen Raven now sells products in 121 countries\n and has 2,800 employees.Gant talked with CIO Associate Staff Writer C.G. Lynch about\n how IT gives Glen Raven a competitive advantage.CIO: Glen Raven has not only survived the migration\n of the textile industry away from the United States,\n you\u2019ve been able to expand globally. How has IT enabled\n this growth? Allen Gant Jr.: As an\n international business, we have operations in Western Europe,\n Eastern Europe, the Americas and Asia. The coordination of\n those businesses would be virtually impossible without IT. For\n example, we have a China operation that runs 24\/7. It\u2019s a\n 190,000-square-foot facility in Suzhou that we opened in\n September of 2006. This facility is a marketing, sourcing,\n product development and manufacturing center for Glen Raven\n throughout Asia.One of the plant\u2019s roles is the manufacture of\n Sunbrella fabrics, which are supplied to casual furniture\n makers with operations in China. IT is able to keep it up and\n running on a real-time basis from right here in Burlington. We\n run a comprehensive enterprise resource planning tool that\n enables us to manage every aspect of our business\u2014from\n ordering of fibers for manufacturing through shipment and\n billing to customers. This tool assures the information\n transparency that we must have to manage a global\n enterprise.We operate an Oracle database with Jomar software. Every\n decision we make is based on information available through ERP.\n And we never dreamed of that five years ago, just never dreamed\n of it. So from a logistical standpoint, imagine the beauty of\n being able to look into an IT system and know exactly\n what\u2019s coming off those production units all the time,\n how we can ship to customers, where we can source a product\n from. We satisfy customers with a matter of a click.How do you know whether IT is truly aligned with\n your business?I know that from when times are really difficult. If\n it\u2019s crunch time, you have to produce or you\u2019re\n going to lose the company. If you have a solid core in IT,\n which allows you to make the appropriate analysis very quickly,\n that\u2019s when you realize just how valuable your IT really\n is to the company. We can make the right decisions to improve\n all aspects of our company. We can analyze our purchasing\n decisions, including cost and cost elements; we can look at the\n delivery systems for orders going to customers; and we can\n review credit approvals and billing to our customers.With this information in hand, we have optimized control of\n inventories and purchasing strategies and we have improved\n on-time delivery to customers. This capability becomes\n increasingly important when you are running a global business.\n During times of prosperity, everybody forgets that it took a\n lot of hard work and tough times to bring you to these really\n great times. There have been times in the textile industry when\n the whole industry lost money\u2014just like the airline\n industry was a year and a half ago. Having our IT aligned with\n the business allowed us to move forward quickly.How do you decide which IT investments to\n make?If it concerns innovation and new products and services for\n customers, then it gets a very high mark. If it\u2019s to\n squeeze another penny out of operations, then that probably has\n a very low priority to us. Our company is certainly interested\n in operating efficiently and keeping our costs in line. For\n example, with the recent increases in natural gas prices, we\n have done extensive work to increase our energy efficiency. We\n have also developed a recycling system that finds new uses for\n much of our waste, such as converting textile wastes into\n insulation materials. Reducing costs, however, is only one part\n of the equation and not necessarily the most important\n part.We have already reduced costs and automated virtually every\n function that can be automated. Our future growth and\n profitability, therefore, rests with innovative new products\n and services. We see so much more of an upside to inventing the\n next great fabric compared to savings achieved by sourcing less\n expensive supplies. As a privately held company, we have the\n ability to invest for the long term in products and markets\n where we see outstanding ROI potential.Innovation is inherently risky. How do you make\n those risks acceptable?We\u2019ve never been greedy. We\u2019ve never had to\n worry about what the stock market said tomorrow, what our\n shares sold for or what somebody else thought. We\u2019re\n going to continue to invest in technology and innovation to\n make us the best there is. And you can\u2019t compromise\n there. Once you start compromising, you\u2019ve lost the\n battle. Think about the signal that you send to all of your\n employees.The most important way to mitigate risks in IT is to screen\n your software vendors very carefully and work only with those\n companies that are financially strong with long track records\n of success. Second, it is essential to have a solid program of\n hardware backup and recovery capabilities. When we review\n proposed IT investments, our primary filters are information\n accountability and customer service. Do we actually need the\n information that we can create through a new investment, and\n will this information help us to serve our customers better? If\n both of these answers are \u201cyes,\u201d then the project\n will likely receive a green light. With the costs of hardware\n and software coming down each year, it is much easier to\n mitigate the risk of IT investments, particularly when you\n determine early on that an investment will enhance your\n customer service. By following these principles, the issue of\n acceptable risks in IT has not been an issue for us.Does John Duncan, your vice president of corporate\n information services, report to you?No. He works through our CFO.Why not have the head of IT report to you\n directly?We asked that question point-blank. And we\u2019ve decided\n to have it the way it is because our particular CFO, Gary\n Smith, is so involved with the individual businesses.\n He\u2019s not a bean counter. He is one of those rare\n financial experts with a deep appreciation for overall business\n strategy and our need to invest for the long term.Gary has been with Glen Raven for about 10 years and\n participates in all key decisions. He works with the divisions\n on their needs and helps them understand the financial aspects\n of the business. Because he is so closely involved in the\n structure of the company, he helps ensure that we foster an\n environment in which it is easy for our associates to serve\n their customers. And so our IT guys say that they have exactly\n the right balance of people who are in favor of what\n they\u2019re doing.