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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

New ownership of plant means a new management style

Riley describes the new way of doing business new management brought to the White Furniture factory in Mebane. They abandoned the White family's personal style, replacing it with a more ruthless competitive ethic. Workers struggled to find new jobs after the plant closed.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert Riley, February 1, 1994. Interview K-0106. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHRIS STEWART:
When you say that the Hickory people came in with different ideas and different ways of doing things can you explain more what you mean? How was it different from the time before that?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
The old White's were owners and founders and it's just like your home.
CHRIS STEWART:
Can you describe to me what it was like?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
At the time we believed in building the best furniture humans could build at that time. Furniture that you'd be proud of forever and a day. And when these people come in you see some change. In other words, they had different ideas and different opinions. Well, you can have all the ideas and opinions that you want, but it's certain things that you only do one way and that's the right way. With different ideas and different opinions sometime you might try something, but that may not be the way to go. At the time when the economy was a little soft you don't be trying a whole lot of things, you do what brought you here. Yes, we could see some change. When you've been around awhile with the economy like it is only the strong are going to survive anyhow.
CHRIS STEWART:
Were there particular departments that were more affected by this like cabinet making where the furniture was actually put together? Did different departments have different…
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
When the plant was actually sold out it planted a lot of fear in people simply because here's a new kid on the block and how do we adjust to the new kid or how does the new kid adjust to us? It is just something that happens and if it happens to you I think it's going to affect you one way or the other. In my case I had been working for about twenty-five years with people that I knew. I knew the president. I knew who owned it, the family, and everything, and here comes some company that's buying it that was called Hickory Manufacturing. Who was Hickory Manufacturing? I don't know. John Doe is going to operate it. Well, who is John Doe? I don't know. It took some adjustments and let's face facts, some John Doe's just don't gee and haw like they are suppose to. So, a lot of folks start getting a little fearful when it was first sold out.
CHRIS STEWART:
Yes, especially I imagine, after seeing the Hillsborough plant close down.
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
Right. In other words, I think they realized when the Hillsborough plant went that it was just a matter of time before the Mebane plant was going to do the same thing.
CHRIS STEWART:
Did people prepare, I mean, were people thinking about getting another job?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
Well, you can think about it, but with the economy the way it was you can't buy a job today. You were thinking, you knew what was happening and saying, "I hope it don't happen, but I know it's going to happen." What can you do? Certain things are just going to be.
CHRIS STEWART:
It's certainly tough to find a job when you're working full-time too.
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
It is. You don't want to give up a day. You know that every time you give up a day that's a day that your check's short. Then too, there's a lot of jobs now where you don't just go out and get hired, you have to go through this temporary service and that's a lousy service. That service does no good at all. It's good for the company in the way that it will kind of prune out the dead brush. It let's you know who is strong and who will stay there, but for a person that's got to go out and give a percentage of his salary away, it's not good. This is the way the most of them chose to do it now. A lot of them can't even get in the front door if they go today looking for a job. You go to the unemployment or temporary service.