Roger Milliken | Legacy of Leadership Profile

Roger Milliken (1915 - 2010)

Through Roger Milliken's leadership and passion for innovation and research, Milliken & Company has become one of the largest and most successful textile and chemical manufacturing companies in the world. With more than 16,000 associates working in 65 plants in South Carolina and five other states, Milliken's operations extend to 12 countries worldwide.    

Spartanburg-based Milliken & Company, one of the world's largest privately held companies, manufactures thousands of products, among them finished fabrics for uniforms and spacesuits, as well as textiles for tennis balls, napery items, automotive fabrics, and sails. Milliken Carpet is a world leader in the production of rugs and carpets for residential, commercial, and institutional uses. The company also makes specialty chemicals that are used in dyes, plastics, and petroleum products.    

Milliken's roots go back to 1865 when Seth Milliken and William Deering founded Deering Milliken Company, a small woolen fabrics jobbing firm in Portland, Maine. Deering left the company a few years later and started the Deering Harvester Company, which is today known as Navistar. In 1868, Seth Milliken moved the company headquarters to the city of New York, at that time the heart of the American textile industry. In 1884, the company invested in a new facility in Pacolet, South Carolina, and from that basic beginning the manufacturing operations grew.    

In 1945, the Deering Milliken Research Trust was established in Clemson, South Carolina, by Roger Milliken; its headquarters were moved to Spartanburg in 1958, and it was later renamed Milliken Research Corporation. Dedicated to technological advances through research, the center is the largest and most productive research organization in the world. Milliken has accumulated more than 1,500 patents.

Roger Milliken was born October 24, 1915, in New York, the son of Gerrish and Agnes Gayley Milliken. He graduated from Groton School in 1933 and received a bachelor of arts degree from Yale University in 1937.

He was named a director of Deering Milliken in 1941 and president in 1947. He moved with his family to Spartanburg in 1954, his home ever since. In 1976, Deering Milliken officially became Milliken & Company. Milliken served as president of the company until 1988, when he was named chairman and chief executive officer, his present title.    

For years, Roger Milliken and Milliken & Company have been prominently associated with the American quality movement that followed W. Edwards Deming's work with Japanese industrialists after World War II. Milliken instituted its own Pursuit of Excellence process in 1981 and in 1989 won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Since then, Milliken has won the European Quality Award, the British Quality Award, and the Canadian Award for Business Excellence.    

Milliken's Pursuit of Excellence process, in which all Milliken associates are encouraged to share their thoughts on how quality might be achieved, is featured in the book A Passion for Excellence, co-authored by Tom Peters, whose In Search of Excellence was a bestseller among business books.

Roger Milliken was the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce's Businessman of the Year in 1981. He received the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce's Neville Holcombe Distinguished Citizenship Award in 1985. In 1991, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce named him its Citizen of the Carolinas, and Brookgreen Gardens presented him its American Achievement Award.

He is chairman of the Greenville/Spartanburg Airport Commission and Crafted With Pride in the U.S.A. Council, Inc., and a director of Milliken & Company, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, and the South Carolina Textile Manufacturers Association. He is also a member of The Business Council and Ludwig von Mises Institute's Entrepreneurs Council.

Milliken is a former director of Citicorp, Arthur D. Little, Inc., Mercantile Stores, Inc., W. R. Grace & Company, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

Milliken served as chairman of the board of trustees of the Institute of Textile Technology in Charlottesville, Virginia, from 1944 to 1997, and ITT's Roger Milliken Textile Library honors his many contributions to the school. Milliken now serves as chairman emeritus.

In 1998, the South Carolina Quality Forum established the annual Roger Milliken Medal of Quality Award, and Milliken was the first recipient. The award recognizes an individual who exemplifies leadership in quality initiatives in South Carolina.

He is a trustee of Wofford College, Spartanburg Day School, and the South Carolina Foundation of Independent Colleges. A former president of the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, he is a member of the advisory boards of Brookgreen Gardens and the Institute for Political Economy.

He has received honorary degrees from Clemson University, Wofford College, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, Converse College, Brenau College, The Citadel, University of South Carolina at Spartanburg, LaGrange College, and Furman University. He married Justine Van Rensselaer Hooper on June 5, 1948. They have five children: Justine V. R. Milliken Russell, Nancy, Roger, Jr., David Gayley, and Weston Freeman Milliken.    

Milliken entered the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1985, and in April of 2000, he was inducted into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame.


Roger Milliken is equally passionate about the environment and "respect for our earth," as evidenced by the 600-acre manicured green space, which serves as the walking trails, arboretum, and corporate campus of Milliken headquarters. The attention to horticultural detail is a hallmark of each Milliken location throughout the world. His commitment to environmental excellence and zero waste generation led to Milliken being named one of only 21 Environmental Champions in the nation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and McGraw Hill publishing. In May 2000, he was awarded the Frances K. Hutchinson Medal by the Garden Club of America.

A strong supporter of education, Roger Milliken has translated his belief in lifelong learning into strong educational initiatives within Milliken & Company. Milliken University, located on Milliken's corporate campus, has 15 dedicated classrooms devoted to maintaining the highest level of job skills and the goal of a well-educated workforce.

In 1999, the Northern Textile Association presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and Textile World Magazine named him Leader of the Century.

Roger Milliken was inducted into the National Business Hall of Fame on April 18, 1985.

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame