Crandall Bowles speaks

Crandall Bowles, the recently retired CEO of Springs Global, talks Thursday with members of the York County Regional Chamber before speaking at the City Club of Rock Hill.
Crandall Bowles, the recently retired CEO of Springs Global, talks Thursday with members of the York County Regional Chamber before speaking at the City Club of Rock Hill.

Crandall Bowles, the recently-retired CEO of Springs Global, told a Rock Hill audience last week that she had a successful career overseeing the textile giant and its shift to Brazil.

But minutes later, as Bowles strolled down a sidewalk with me outside the event, Bowles said she had failed as the fifth-generation top dog at Springs.

Had she just lied to a room full of people? I don't think so. The measure of her career depends on your perspective.

"I feel like I did my job by putting the company in a position to move forward," Bowles said during the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce executive reception Thursday, a rare public appearance for Bowles.

Bowles said the hardest part of her decision to take Springs public and merge her family's billion-dollar business with Coteminas, a Brazilian textile maker and longtime supplier of Springs, was the impact it eventually had on thousands of local workers. She positioned Springs for future growth, but in the process, she put many mothers, fathers, sons and daughters out of work.

"I always felt part of my job was to keep the jobs," Bowles said when I asked if her success was tainted because so many were left jobless. "So, in that sense, I failed."

During Thursday's chamber event, Bowles talked about her first job selling peaches in Fort Mill for 50 cents an hour. She told stories about roller skating with her grandfather in Lancaster. She spoke of her marriage to investment banker and former Bill Clinton advisor Erskine Bowles and her rise to the top of Springs.

But despite her gains on the world's business stage, Bowles acknowledged that she always saw the inevitable loss of local jobs in the future.

Bowles said when decisions to move to South America were being made, she wanted to, and often did, fight for jobs in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.

But in its final days as a private company, Springs was losing money, Brazilian stock documents show. Bowles said that for the company to compete and remain profitable, changes had to happen.

"I could have tweaked a few things or done something different here and there, but none of that would have changed the outcome," she said, noting that low-cost labor overseas was hampering the company's ability to compete. "When I saw I could add to the value of the company and then retire, I knew it was the best decision."

If you ask the people who worked for Bowles -- or her father, Bill Close, his father, Elliot Springs, or her great-great grandfather, who founded the company -- if she was successful, many will tell you that she was.

Longtime Springs spokesperson Ted Matthews, who even as a vice-president fell victim to downsizing, told me he was blessed to work for Bowles.

Those still living on those Springs mill hills have said time and again how much they respect the family. They speak of the scholarships, the fair wages, the green spaces and the communities they live in thanks to Springs family's successes.

From another perspective, there are those still unemployed months after the last Springs mill in South Carolina was closed. They blame Springs for their plight. Some poor souls in Chester, Fort Lawn and Lancaster will tell you how they spent 30 years in the Grace plant without an education, making Springs rich. Now, they're left with empty pockets and failure.

Was Crandall Bowles' career marked by success or failure? Bowles herself will tell you it depends on who you ask and how you phrase the question.

Etc. ...

• Yvonne McCullough, an activities leader for Park Pointe Village retirement community, has been named the 2007 President's Award Honoree. She was selected from among 110 co-workers at Park Pointe Village, off West Main Street in Rock Hill.

The company-wide annual award recognizes an employee for exemplary service to residents, concern and support for fellow employees and overall attitude and work performance. McCullough, who hasn't missed a day of work in two years, her supervisor said, received $500 and a plaque of recognition.

• A local driving school should hire Rock Hill resident James Scruggs. Scruggs, a truck driver for FedEx National LTL, was recently recognized for reaching the 22-year safe-driving milestone. I can't go a year without getting into trouble on the road, but Scruggs has driven for 22 years without a preventable accident. The company gave him a four-diamond ring.

• Renovations at Glencairn Garden recently received a big shot in the arm from Founders Federal Credit Union. Founders is partnering with the Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism to establish the Founders Federal Credit Union Relaxation Garden at Glencairn. It's a labyrinth-shaped brick garden area with seating overlooking the fountain and pond.

• York's Sonic Drive-In was named the December Business of the Month by the Greater York Chamber of Commerce.