James C. "Jim" Self, Son: Mat Self | Legacy of Leadership Interview

Host Jim Welch interviews Mat Self, the son of Jim Self and the grandson of James. C. Self.

James C. "Jim" Self (1919–1998)

James C. Self and his son, Jim, were the first father-son laureates of the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame. Jim Self's father took over a run-down, 10-year-old Greenwood cotton mill in 1908 and turned it into one of the most notable business success stories in South Carolina's history. He was honored posthumously in 1986.    

Jim Self worked summers in the mills as a teenager and with his father in the corporate office after World War II. When his time came to take charge, the 36-year-old executive was prepared, and was his own man. "You can't be like anybody else, but you can have some of the same goals and work toward them. No two people do things alike. I wish I could have been just like my father, but times had changed and we had to go about things in a different way," Self said in an interview.    

James Cuthbert "Jim" Self, Jr., was born October 19, 1919, in Greenwood, the son of James Cuthbert and Lura Mathews Self. (He dropped the "junior" from his name.) He graduated from The Citadel in 1941 with a degree in business administration and attained the rank of major in the Army's coastal defense forces during World War II.    

Greenwood Mills celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1989 and continues as a viable force in the nation's textile industry. With Jim Self in charge, the family interests grew to include Central Trust Company, Greenwood Development Corporation, Greenwood Holding Corporation, Greenwood Mills, Inc., Ninety Six Manufacturing Company, and The Self Foundation.    

The company has denim plants in Liberty and in Lindale, Georgia, and wet processing plants in Tennessee. The marketing division is in New York City.

Greenwood Mills' formula for success is simple: Flexibility to make what the customer wants, the way he wants it, and service before, during, and after the sale. But its statement of guiding principles and values declares: "Our people are our greatest asset . . . we will create a work environment of openness, teamwork, and sharing . . . we will continually strive for stable employment and to always treat people fairly and with respect."

The Self family's enterprise has been based in Greenwood, with eight weaving plants in Greenwood County. Most of the 3,500 employees now on the payroll live in the area. Nearly 80 percent have worked for the company for more than a quarter of a century, and some—like the Selfs themselves— for three generations.

Among Self's major accomplishments was his role in the development of Hilton Head Island, the world-famous South Carolina resort. In 1959, Self was the major investor in the first project for the island. In fact, Greenwood Mill's construction department transformed the swampland into the island's first golf course now known as the Ocean Course.

Self's interest in the development of the island continued over the years, and in 1978, he formed Greenwood Development Corporation. The following year, the company acquired Palmetto Dunes, which features Shelter Cove Marina, office parks, shopping centers, hotels and condominiums, and golf courses. Property known as Palmetto Hall Plantation was purchased at the same time.

The Self Foundation, which Jim Self later served as president, was established in 1942 by his father to build a hospital in Greenwood. Today, the foundation focuses on health organizations, education, and local cultural, recreational, historical, and religious activities. By 1999, the foundation had awarded $32 million in grants, 99 percent of them within South Carolina. Self was also a trustee of the Duke Endowment.    

Greenwood Mills' recent history has come in fast chapters as the company has adapted to revolutionary changes: synthetic fibers, knitted fashions, denim cloth for the jeans generations, the energy crisis, a hot and cold economy, computers, new production methods and machinery, and serious competition from foreign imports, to name a few.

Self went to Washington to appeal to Congress for a fairer trade policy. Cheaper-made foreign imports were hurting American mills badly, and, in the 1980s, Greenwood Mills was forced to lay off workers for the first time in its history. He concluded that the trade policy would not be changed, so he prepared to meet the challenge.

Self consolidated and restructured, remodeled for new technology, acquired new mills, closed some others, and diversified product lines to respond to foreign competition.

In 1983, Self retired and became chairman of the executive committee of Greenwood Mills. His son, W. M. "Mat" Self, is chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

He was a member of the State Development Board, the Insurance Commission, and was a life trustee (emeritus) of Clemson University. His father was in Clemson's first class.

He received honorary degrees from the Medical University of South Carolina, The Citadel, Lander College, the University of South Carolina, and Erskine College.

Self was a director of Duke Power Company and The Citadel Development Foundation, and was director emeritus of Textile Hall Corporation. He was a trustee of the University of South Carolina Business Partnership Foundation, ETV Endowment of South Carolina, and trustee emeritus of J. E. Sirrine Textile Foundation.

He also served as a director of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute and the South Carolina Textile Manufacturers Association. He was a Methodist, Rotarian, and member of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.    

Jim Self married Virginia Turner of Greenwood on January 24, 1942, and they were the parents of four children: the late James C., Jr., Virginia Preston, William Mathews, and Sally Elizabeth. Virginia Self died in May 2, 1984. Self married Loutrelle Cawthon on May 27, 1988. She died January 16, 1994.

Self died September 14, 1998.

He was inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1990.     

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame