January 24, 2012,
Very few people in the home textiles trade have been as low profile as Louis Hornick, yet even fewer turn out to be as sociable, outgoing and, dare one say, charming as the third generation head of the curtain and drapery company that bears his family name.
Louis Hornick the company remains one of the handful of suppliers in the business that focuses on window fashions exclusively and one of the last where the fourth generation is already being groomed to take over the reigns.
Not that Louis Hornick the person is going anywhere. At age 61, he is very clearly the leader of both the company and the family. HTT sat down with him this fall at the company's offices tucked into an East Side brownstone for our latest Living & Working Legends interview, continuing the series of asking senior executives who run their companies the same series of questions about their lives ... past, present and future.
HTT: How did you get started in the home textiles business?
Louis Hornick: I was born into it. My grandfather started the company and my earliest memories are of going to the factory in Haverstraw, N.Y. It's not like my father and I played catch together. That's where we went.
LH: That's impossible to answer. I never intended to do anything else. I would spend summer vacations at the factory earning $2.35 an hour until I graduated college as an accounting and English major. I joined the company in 1972.
My funny answer to the question is that I would have been a buyer.
HTT: When did you know you were going to be successful in this business?
LH: I never doubted I would be successful. The first time was when I solved a production-planning problem when I was 23.
There's also when I got my first big order from W. T. Grant for tier curtains. I had a big program with Kmart, too, in tiered curtains. Back then they had three buyers just for curtains and two more for draperies.
HTT: What single accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
LH: It has to be the intersection of manufacturing, marketing and selling. I did that three or four times like with Snowflake, which was the leader in the tab top business.
Heimtextil had a profound effect on us in terms of the product I wanted to develop. It was everything. I wanted home textiles products that would last a lifetime, not like today.
HTT: If you had to do something over what would it be and how would you do it differently?
LH: I didn't fire people fast enough. I don't think anybody would accuse me of being a nice guy. There were people I hired who lasted five or ten years and they should have lasted six months. I thought they needed more time. It's a mistake; you really need to fire people, if you can, in the first three months. I guess one of my mistakes was having an HR department.
I never got better at it. I was never able to find as good people as my father hired and I grew up with. I think the talent pool dried up and this industry is not as attractive as apparel.
HTT: What's the single biggest change you've seen in the industry?
LH: Globalization - in a bad way. Did I see it coming? Yeah, I thought I could beat it with hubris. It's a classic Greek tragedy. It happened very quickly. I saw it coming, but not as fast as it happened - but neither did most other companies.
The people who were successful in imports were the people who never manufactured here in the first place.
It's hard for small and medium-sized companies to deal with globalization.
The textiles industry was sacrificed for other industries. It was a bad trade for this country, but what's done is done.
HTT: If you could do one thing to improve the industry's overall business what would it be?
LH: We don't want the government getting rid of industries or creating them because of too much regulation. There should be a consumption tax rather than a payroll tax.
Nobody wants to be the last buggy whip manufacturer, but we must balance manufacturing and service. This is going to be very important for the United States.
My other answer would be: I think the consumer has to purchase curtains and draperies.
HTT: What's your exit strategy?
LH: Death is my exit strategy. Our 100th anniversary will be in 2018, and that's not far away.
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