Richard A. Noll, chairman and chief executive officer of Hanesbrands Inc., likened his career to white water rafting. At times, he said, the water is calm, but you always have to be prepared for strong currents and rocks ahead.
“When you come out of school, you want to fine-tune your skills over the next decade. You have to learn to execute really really well. Because you are going to hit those rocks later on. Those rocks are going to come faster and more furiously. You have to become better at bouncing off of them.”
Noll, MSIA ‘85, shared his insights and career advice with students at the Tepper School of Business in March during the WL Mellon Speaker Series. The CEO said he taps both the analytical skills as well as communications skills he learned at business school to manage the company that sells undergarments and other basic apparel to 80 percent of U.S. households.
“All of you are going to be naturally very quantitative and analytical,” he said. “That is absolutely a critical skill. But you are going to have to balance that with the non-analytical courses, such as communications and organizational behavior.
The most important course I use every single month is communications. If you want to be in any business or any organization that has more than two people, you have to communicate your ideas and thoughts to a broad audience.”
But he warned students not to communicate by dashing off emails in a big business setting because those missives can not be modulated by body language. “I guarantee, you are going to send an e-mail and someone is going to take offense. What you think of as a bland statement is going to come across poorly.”
He also advised students to travel to China to understand the United State’s place in the changing world economy. “The center of gravity is going from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, economically as well as from a population perspective. If you go to Shanghai on a Saturday night, you will understand that. If you look around and see the massive building going on and you see the mass of people going out on a Saturday night, you start to realize how big China is in the world.”
“The amount of spending is unbelievable. Some 400 million people over the next couple of decades are going to enter the middle class. Those people want things just like us. They want more clothing. They want more cell phones. They want electronics. That is going to create huge growth opportunities.”
Noll has overseen the global expansion of Hanesbrands, which has 12,000 employees in Asia, up from 300 four years ago. It also had made inroads in Latin America. “We are the No. 1 men’s underwear brand in Mexico and Brazil.”
Noll has served as Hanesbrands chief executive officer since April 2006 and a director since the company’s formation in September 2005, when it was spunoff from Sara Lee. From December 2002 until the completion of the spinoff in September 2006, Noll also was senior vice president of Sara Lee. He joined the company in 1992, and kept getting promotions as a manager.
He said he concentrated on executing well in every job, instead of planning out his next career move. His latest promotion in January of 2009 was chairman of Hanesbrands, which has flourished as a spinoff.
“We did well in a recession,” he said. “Business was booming in 2010. We are in 80 percent of U.S. households. Few brands can claim that. Our consumers use our products every single day of their lives, come recession, come war, come good times, come bad times.”
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