R.B. Pamplin Corp. History
Portland, Oregon 97204
Telephone: (503) 248-1133
Fax: (503) 248-1175
Sales: $800 million (2000 est.)
NAIC: 31321 Broadwoven Fabric Mills; 551112 Office of Other Holding Companies; 31323 Nonwoven Fabrics (Manufacturers); 32411 Petroleum Products (Manufacturers); 324121 Asphalt and Asphalt Products (Manufacturers); 32732 Ready-Mixed Concrete (Manufacturers); 42139 Construction Materials (Wholesale)
Pamplin's business philosophy is simple: identify bedrock industries that make products that people will always need, and find ways to improve their value.
- While still a Georgia-Pacific executive, Robert B. Pamplin, Sr., uses company stock to fund a family holding company known as R.B. Pamplin Corp., which was initially used to purchase real estate.
- Pamplin, Sr., retires as chairman and CEO of Georgia-Pacific Corp. and purchases Ross Island Sand & Gravel.
- Pamplin Corp. acquires Mount Vernon Mills, Inc. by increasing its ownership to 32 percent of outstanding shares.
- Pamplin acquires Riegel Textile Corporation.
- Pamplin Communications Corp., a subsidiary, purchases Christian Supply Centers, Inc.
- Pamplin Communications buys Community Newspapers, Inc. and inaugurates the Portland Tribune.
R.B. Pamplin Corp. is a holding and investment company with two major operations, Ross Island Sand & Gravel Co. in Oregon and Mount Vernon Mills Inc. in South Carolina. The company's American-made textiles are its hallmark; its close to 20 facilities produce a variety of fabrics, including denim. The company owns and operates the world's largest denim mill, which produces 90 million linear yards of cloth per year. Pamplin Corp. also has a number of subsidiaries; its other ventures include Columbia Empire Farms and Pamplin Communications Corp., a Christian retail and music company.
Making Strategic Acquisitions: 1970s
Robert B. Pamplin, Sr., was born in 1911 in Virginia. After earning a bachelor's degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1933 and graduating from Northwestern University in Illinois as a certified public accountant, he went to work as an accountant in 1934 at a then relatively small wholesale lumber firm, Georgia-Pacific Corp. As the company's fifth employee, he worked his way up its corporate ladder to become secretary-treasurer, then financial vice-president, administrative vice-president, executive vice-president, and, finally, chairman of the board and chief executive officer in 1957. During his tenure, the company's revenues climbed from $121 million to $3 billion. By the time he retired due to company policy on his 65th birthday on November 25, 1976, Georgia-Pacific had grown to employ 40,000 and had evolved into one of the largest integrated manufacturers of plywood, lumber, gypsum, and other building products in addition to pulp, paper, and paper products.
While at Georgia-Pacific, Pamplin placed 20,000 shares of the company in a family holding company known as R.B. Pamplin Corp. in 1957. Since tax laws at the time made it important to balance stock dividends with other income, R.B. Pamplin purchased real estate. Eventually, he acquired Ross Island Sand & Gravel Co. and the Oregon Bank Building in Portland. The Ross Island purchase occurred on the day Pamplin cleaned out his desk at Georgia-Pacific.
Pamplin, Sr., joined by his son, Robert Pamplin, Jr., moved Pamplin Corp. into the same Portland, Oregon building as Georgia-Pacific, nine floors down from the offices where he used to work. Pamplin, Jr., had begun his career in business as an accountant for R.B. Pamplin real estate. He, too, had evinced a knack for business early on. He started investing in stocks as a teenager. Having followed in his father's footsteps to Virginia Tech in the 1960s, he used a $160,000 bequest from his grandmother and caught the rise of the stock market, making his first million while still an undergraduate. He later invested his profits in timber and farmlands, which immediately shot up in value, and also invested $30,000 in an unproven "cutting" horse that yielded $2 million in stud fees and $850,000 when sold. Pamplin, Jr., earned two master's degrees, one in business administration and one in education at the University of Portland, and after a bout with cancer in 1975, a master's and a doctorate at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He founded Christ Community Church to provide a food bank-type program to more than 50 relief agencies in Portland.
From their 18th floor offices, Pamplin Corp. bought significant portions of companies without either Pamplin ever visiting the physical plant of any purchase. Pamplin, Sr., sought out firms he felt were undervalued based upon reading their annual reports and financial statements. He especially liked medium-sized, old companies--those that had been in business for 90 to 100 years, had key management and shareholders at around retirement age, and possessed substantial net worth per share. These he reasoned probably had plenty of assets.
Textiles especially met Pamplin's acquisition criteria. He had started buying stock in Mount Vernon Mills in 1972 when the company was a good buy. "I saw it was a company that was undervalued and saw a lot of potential there," the man who was known for his willingness to speak his mind was quoted as saying in a 1982 Oregonian article. When he "got in a fuss with [Mount Vernon's] management" in 1982, he purchased the remaining outstanding shares of the company in order to replace its managers and undertook a $5 million expansion program to improve operations. At the time, Mount Vernon had annual sales of about $100 million. In 1985, Pamplin Corp. purchased Riegel Textile Corporation in an $87 million transaction, adding it to his textile operations.
The new conglomerate employed about 6,650 people in 1986 and generated $400 million in revenues, netting $23 million after taxes. With the 1985 acquisition of Riegel, it moved from 13th to fourth in a ranking of Oregon's privately held corporations. The company's close to 20 mills in Alabama, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia made Pamplin one of the largest American textile manufacturers. The company made "greige goods," such as gauze, yarn, and print cloth; denim, material for work clothes, and uniforms; tent material; upholstery for cars and fabrics for recreational vehicles; draperies; and finished consumer goods, such as towels, cloth napkins, tablecloths, mattress pads, blankets, and infantwear.
As owners of Oregon's fourth largest privately held corporation, the Pamplins maintained a hands-on approach at Pamplin Corp. Pamplin, Sr., personally invested the corporate retirement funds and Pamplin, Jr., did his own typing. Management philosophy according to Pamplin, Sr., in a 1982 Oregonian article, was to be "sensitive to the people ... You give employees an opportunity to divide the profits ... and the more they make, the more I make." However, when employees were not willing to cooperate, Pamplin was prepared to shut a place down. The conglomerate overall operated according to the same decentralized approach Pamplin, Sr., used at Georgia-Pacific. The company was divided into profit centers, whose operations had to show a 15 percent return on investment. Management vocally abhorred waste and inefficiency.
The Pamplins also became known for their commitment to philanthropy. In 1986, Pamplin, Sr., gave $10 million to Virginia Tech, and they named the College of Business after him. In 1992, Pamplin, Jr., chairman of the board of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, challenged its students and staff to meet or beat him in a series of physical fitness activities in return for his donation of up to $1 million. Pamplin, Jr., also supported the SEI Pamplin Project, a program of peer leadership run by Self Enhancement Inc., an organization focused on developing the self-esteem of inner city youth. In 1999, the Pamplin Foundation gave almost $11 million to the University of Portland. The corporation yearly donated a tenth of its pretax profits to mostly local causes.
1990s: Steady Growth and Diversification
Throughout the 1990s, Pamplin Corp. grew steadily. Its 1993 revenues from its mills and Ross Island totaled almost $700 million, on which the company made a $50 million profit. The Pamplins formed Pamplin Communications Corp. as the media arm of the business. In 1993, this division purchased Christian Supply Centers, Inc., six retail stores specializing in religious educational materials for home schooling in the Portland metropolitan area. In 1998, Christian Supply Centers developed a national sales department, which contributed to a 25 to 50 percent increase in the chain's growth. By 1998, it had 13 stores in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho; by 1999, it had 25. Pamplin Music Company, a division of Pamplin Communications, was the fourth largest independent distributor of Christian music by 2001.
In 1998, in a very different venture, Pamplin, Jr., teamed up with a former employee of Made in Oregon, a chain of stores that sold items manufactured in Oregon exclusively, to form Your Northwest, which opened its first store in Dundee, Oregon, in 1998. Your Northwest provided an outlet for Pamplin, Jr.'s Columbia Empire Farms' produce--hazelnuts, berry preserves, and hazelnut confections. When Pamplin, Jr., purchased a vineyard, Your Northwest became an outlet for its wines as well.
By 2000, Pamplin Communications had six radio stations, five in Oregon and Washington and one in California. In 2000, the subsidiary bought Community Newspapers, Inc., through which it gained control of 11 suburban Portland papers that had a combined circulation of 175,000. In 2001, the newly inaugurated Portland Tribune, owned and published by Pamplin Communications, went head-to-head with the 150-year-old Oregonian, the first paper to do so in 20 years. Delivered free to somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 households in Portland on Tuesdays and Fridays, the 30-page paper, like the Pamplin's radio stations, distinguished itself by focusing on local and regional news. Pamplin's professed goal: To provide a second community voice for Portland. Several journalists left the Oregonian to join the staff of 28 of the Portland Tribune.
But although some welcomed the Pamplins move into media, others criticized it, including an article in the American Journalism Review after the Tribune organized a boat tour of Ross Island for local officials and published a front-page article on the event in 2001, the same year Pamplin, Jr., was named entrepreneur of the year by Oregon Entrepreneurs Forum. Pamplin Corp., whose revenues then totaled about $800 million, had mined the island over the years to a horseshoe-shaped fraction of what it had been and rebuilt its beaches with dredge spoils from Portland harbor's oil terminals. Although "Rebirth of an Island," the article in the Tribune, focused on Ross Island Gravel & Sand's plans to rebuild the island and turn it over to the city, it was criticized locally as a piece of slanted journalism. The article neglected to announce that the Tribune had organized the island tour, raising objections that the paper had compromised its journalistic integrity by functioning as a public relations organ. That integrity was reinstated somewhat when Pamplin Broadcasting donated a substantial sum toward the Oregon Public Affairs Network's goal of creating a new television and internet broadcasting service providing gavel-to-gavel coverage of important state proceedings.
By the early years of the new century, it was hard to predict what directions Pamplin Corp. would branch off into next. The Fortune 500 company owned by two of Oregon's wealthiest men, the father and son duo that preached hard work and duty to develop one's gifts, seemed able to purchase and foster practically anything it desired.
Principal Subsidiaries: Mount Vernon Mills, Inc.; Ross Island Sand & Gravel Co.; K.F. Jacobsen & Co.; Pamplin Broadcasting; Pamplin Communications; Pamplin Entertainment; R.B. Pamplin Jr. Farm; B. Gentle Concrete Construction Co.; Oregon Publications Corp.; Pacific Northwest Aggregates, Inc.; Pamplin Communications Corp.
Principal Competitors: Avondale Industries, Inc.; Cone Mills Corporation; U.S. Concrete.
- Berns, Dave, "Disciple of Discipline," Portland Business Today, June 3, 1987, p. 25.
- Eisler, Gary, "Bob Pamplin's Second Career," Forbes, May 18, 1987, p. 182.
- ------, "Climbing Back to the Top," Oregon Business, October 1986, p. 31.
- Pamplin, Robert B., Jr., et al., Heritage: The Making of an American Family, New York: Master Media Limited, 1994.
- Sherman, Christopher, "Owning It All," American Journalism Review, September 2001, p. 16.
- Sorenson, Donald J., "G-P Ex-Chief Runs Multimillion 'Family Concern,'"Oregonian, June 14, 1982, p. D5.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 45. St. James Press, 2002.