Bill Ghitis, former president of Invista Apparel at Invista Inc., may have stepped down with the intention of retiring, but he doesn't plan to be totally out of the apparel, textiles and fibers scene.
"I resigned my post and retired because I wanted to do the Johnny Carson number — he left at the top of the heap in TV, and I left Invista with very good profit results, a company poised for a lot more growth. So I see it as leaving on a very optimistic note," said Ghitis, 59. He served 33 years at DuPont Textiles & Interiors, where his responsibilities included leading the global apparel portfolio, managing consumer insights, heading project innovation and building network leadership.
Dave Trerotola, former global president of Invista's performance materials business, succeeded Ghitis, who left the company May 1.
Instead of retreating to a golf course or a ski slope, Ghitis, who is fluent in five languages — French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English — created his own consulting firm, Bian International LLC, in May. He noted the word "bian" in Chinese means change. That is specifically what Ghitis believes needs to continually happen in the apparel and textile industries if companies want to survive and remain viable in an international marketplace that's impacted by diverse cultures, politics and different business models.
"I did not sign a non-compete, so I'll be looking for very few advisory partners at a very high level to develop independent partnerships. I'll be based for the most part in New York, and in Rome," said Ghitis, who grew up in the textile field in Milan, where his father, the late Yasha Ghitis, was a major importer of Australian wool. "I plan to be a consultant in apparel, textiles, business management and corporate governance, but not 24/7. That's why I resigned. I also believe the innovative marketing I've learned throughout the years could be applied to other industries. But I won't make any decisions until this fall."
Regarding Ghitis' professional track record, he was named president of Invista's $8.4 billion synthetic fiber powerhouse in 2004, following DuPont's sale of its textiles and fibers business to Koch Industries Inc. for $4.2 billion in 2004. DTI was renamed Invista. Ghitis was responsible for Invista's global portfolio of brands, which includes Lycra spandex premium stretch fiber, durable Cordura fabrics, Tactel, Supplex and Coolmax and Coolmax FreshFX fabrics that wick moisture away from the body. These brands are used in a range of clothing, from intimate apparel, bodywear and activewear to casualwear, sportswear, ready-to-wear and men's wear.Earlier in his career, Ghitis served as vice president of new business development for DuPont Lycra and was global director in the staple, fiberfill and branded specialties areas for DuPont Dacron. He also served on the DuPont corporate marketing forum, a team of senior advisers assigned to strengthen DuPont's marketing competency.
A prized possession from his former Invista offices explains Ghitis's "love of paradoxes" — a framed map entitled, "MacArthur's Universal Corrective Map of the World." The continents are upside down, symbolic in a sense of how Ghitis views the global marketplace and how he melded traditional and unorthodox methods to bolster DTI apparel and textile partnerships in Brazil, Barcelona, Paris and Geneva.
In an interview in 2004 with WWD, Ghitis described his approach to running a global business, saying, "I don't believe in this horizon-industry thing. People talk when they see the growth rate is very low, 1 to 2 percent. That is $1 billion or $2 billion a year. We are working on a business plan and the intent, for sure, is to grow more than the industry growth rate of 2 percent. When you look at us at DTI, we certainly have the scale and scope and are at least twice the size of our competitors."
Ghitis' love of change, paradoxes and going against the grain reflects the casual manner in which he has dressed throughout his career, whether it was a corporate meeting, a presentation for a new product launch at the Lyon, Mode City trade fair, or lunch last week at Odeon, a Manhattan eatery: a solid white polo shirt, jeans with Lycra and no socks.
Asked what are the main issues he wants to address as a consultant, Ghitis replied, "There are four key issues I am very interested in, the first of which is 'The consumer rules.'
"Today, people understand more than ever before value. They have an extraordinary number of choices and ways to express themselves, and they are aware of what is relevant to their lifestyles when it comes to product and how it is priced around the value it brings. In other words, people are willing to spend the money, but only if there is value in that garment. The key question is, 'Does the industry really satisfy consumers' aspirations in apparel?' The answer is no, when you see how much product is being put on sale."Ghitis said the second issue manufacturers and retailers need to address is the green initiative.
"Everybody thinks it's hip, cool, a little like a new religion with celebrity endorsements," he continued. "But when it comes to textiles and apparel, it's a huge leadership challenge. New technology needs to be developed to enable the creation of eco-friendly apparel. There are also the consumers who have repeatedly said they will not pay more if it's green. People will pay more if it's a designer name, they won't pay more for the eco-friendly benefits.
"Then there's innovation with a big I," said Ghitis. "When people think of innovation, they think of newness, new designs. But innovation to me is something much larger. You see companies buy raw materials and manufacturers who make and merchandise product. But how many people in a company understand consumer needs and are consumer-centric? Huge innovation to me would be taking a company's financial leadership to help understand consumers' needs, which in turn would optimize their cash flow."
He added that human resources are an important part of the innovation issue.
"Today, at most companies, human resources are cost centers that have to become more efficient every day. But what if you think of it as talent development, a center that would secure and develop people and their capabilities? My question to a number of top executives at companies is what percentage of their time do they invest in developing talent? At Invista, we were able to bring in people outside of the industry, and blend them within our industry to create a cohesive theme. I brought in an executive from Dannon [yogurt] who now heads Invista's marketing businesses in Asia and Europe."
On a final note, Ghitis cited "survival of the West" as the fourth major issue facing the apparel and textile industries.
"China is unstoppable, but the issue here for the industry is that it's not necessary to compete with China on cost. Every good business manager knows what affects the bottom line is not cost but price. If your product can be differentiated to the value-driven customer, you will survive," he said.
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