Springs Global's Bowles to retire

FORT MILL -- Crandall Bowles, the co-CEO and co-chairwoman of Springs Global, will retire after the public sale of company shares on the Brazilian stock exchange, a company document states.

Her retirement as a fifth-generation company executive signals the end of an era for the Fort Mill-based textile company. Her partner, Josue Christiano Gomes de Silva, will take charge after her departure. Bowles' great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather started the company that became Springs Industries in 1887.

Bowles has worked for the sheet and towel manufacturer since 1973. She was promoted to chairwoman and CEO in 1998.

The retirement plans were unveiled in a prospectus detailing Springs Global's plans to offer stock on the exchange in Brazil. The offering will raise cash for global expansion. The company merged last year with Coteminas, a Brazilian textile manufacturer.

Public trading in Brazil is slated to begin Friday, according to the prospectus.

Specific details about Bowles' plans to retire were unclear Wednesday. Bowles answered the phone in her office Wednesday afternoon, but told a reporter that all questions should be directed to spokesman Ted Matthews.

Security exchange commission laws in the United States and Brazil bar the company from talking about the move, Matthews said.

Impact felt 'forever'

The news of Bowles' retirement was met with bittersweet emotions in Fort Mill, a community whose history is intertwined with the Springs family.

"I've heard rumors, but I didn't know for sure," Fort Mill Mayor Charles Powers said when he learned Wednesday of Bowles' intentions to step down. "I'm sad she's retiring. I've always admired and respected her, a tremendous lady."

Powers, who knew Bowles as a girl when she worked as a clerk at The Peach Stand, said even though Bowles is stepping down, her work will continue. Many parks, public lands and recreation facilities in Fort Mill were donated by Springs descendants.

"The impact of her family will be felt here forever," he said. "Her interest in our community has never wavered."

With Bowles at the helm, Springs strived to maintain its reputation as a good corporate neighbor, said Mark Farris, York County economic development director.

"The Springs family has set the bar pretty high," Farris said. "They've subsidized everything from education to recreation. They have always been major contributors not only to the economy, but the quality of life we now enjoy."

Farris said Bowles' promotion to CEO when Walter Elisha retired sparked excitement because it signaled the return of a Springs family member to the position once held by Bowles' father, Bill Close.

"When it comes down to talented women in charge of corporations, she has been at the top," Farris said.

Bowles' mother, Anne Springs Close, the daughter of former CEO Col. Elliott Springs, said her daughter's move was not unexpected.

"Obviously, times change and manufacturing here and in the country has been fading for some time," Close said. "It's kind of sad to me because were talking about five generations (of family leadership)."

Close said the family's manufacturing success allowed it to give back through the Springs Close Foundation, which provides funding for local programs, the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex and the Anne Springs Close Greenway.

Still, the retirement comes as Springs Global's presence in the area continues to shrink. The 2005 merger with Coteminas helped the company compete globally but did little to save jobs in the Carolinas.

Last month, the company announced plans to close its remaining two plants in Chester and Lancaster counties -- cutting 750 jobs and ending a 120-year manufacturing tradition in the state.

In 1992, Springs had 14,000 South Carolina workers. After the closings, it will have 700, none in factories. Nationwide, the company has about 4,000 workers. Springs maintains a U.S. headquarters in Fort Mill, but has moved equipment and production to Brazil and elsewhere.

At its zenith 20 years ago, the company was the state's largest private employer, with 17,000 workers. A total of 23,500 people worked for the company worldwide at that time.