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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 compares his work routines at the White's plant in Hillsborough with those in Mebane. The Mebane plant was bigger, and there workers did not enjoy personal relationships with their supervisors as they did in Hillsborough. There, supervisors were committed to producing quality furniture and worked toward that goal beside their workers.

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:
Can you tell me a little bit about the pluses and minuses of working at the Hillsborough plant as opposed to the Mebane plant? How was it different for you when you made the switch, and did you like one better than the other?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
Well, I started at the Hillsborough plant, and I'm a little partial to the Hillsborough plant. The reason I liked the Hillsborough plant so much better is that it was a lot smaller. You knew everybody by name and you almost were able to see everybody even at lunch period. The Mebane plant was so big they would have two lunch periods. Everybody didn't take lunch at the same time. It was much, much bigger. At the Mebane plant you had supervisors and one superintendent. Nobody else. The supervisors had to answer to the superintendent and he would answer to the Mebane boss. You knew who your boss was. You didn't have to go all over the plant to find out what was what you would go directly to your superintendent. At that time we had some real good key people back when I started.
CHRIS STEWART:
That's in Hillsborough.
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
That was in the Hillsborough plant. You would go there and get your hours. You knew what to do. Our superintendent would make rounds everyday. He would speak, see what you could do, what he thought you could do that day, and at the end of that day he'd want all of his supervisors to come by and spend fifteen minutes with him after the work day was over to plan your next day's work. For instance, as I told you about the schedule, if one supervisor was a day or two ahead on his schedule and maybe another supervisor was running a little bit behind it might be that you could loan him a couple of your people tomorrow to catch him back up. It was kind of like one big family. The reason we got together every afternoon was to talk about things. Then the next morning we would know exactly which way we needed to go with our people.
CHRIS STEWART:
Was it different in Mebane?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
Mebane was so much bigger. In the Hillsborough plant I knew every supervisor, his children, his wife. We sometimes would get together to have a meal just to be together. It was kind of like a family tie. When you went to the Mebane plant it was kind of like you knew you were still with the same company but it was so big, like I told you, that some of the supervisors you never did see. They would have one lunch period and one break period, and you were having another one and another break period. You probably didn't see one another because the building was so big and if you were up on this end and they were on that end you had no reason to see each other.
CHRIS STEWART:
And you didn't have these meetings like you had in the Hillsborough plant?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
What they did they had two superintendents at the Mebane plant. They got together and halfway got things together.
CHRIS STEWART:
The supervisors talked to the superintendents and the superintendents got together.
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
Yes, got together and worked things out. But, at the Hillsborough plant it was so small that you were in one department about all the time. It was much better. When I first started we had real good key people.
CHRIS STEWART:
What do you mean when you say key people? What does that mean to you?
ROBERT RILEY, SR.:
Well, it meant, it's just like you, if you enjoy doing what you like to do or you enjoy going to work you are going to do your best work. Our superintendent was a man that believed in an honest day's work for whatever amount of pay that they promised. He didn't ask you to do it and he be over yonder on the golf course or somewhere fishing. He was right there to say, "Look, anytime you run into a problem, I'm somewhere within hollering distance and I can be there in just a minute or two." So, you felt like you were always protected, because if you had a problem or a decision that needed to be made in the next five or ten minutes you could put your hand on somebody that could do it. Not only that, he was steadily walking and he was steadily talking. You don't have to eat a whole cow to know you're eating beef, so you knew right then where the man was coming from. He was a good, solid, firm, and devoted man so it made you a better person because of his ties and his work. I can remember when nobody put in anymore time at our plant than our superintendent.