Former VF Corp. chief executive officer and chairman Lawrence R. “Larry” Pugh died Dec. 3 of respiratory failure in Naples, Fla., where he resided. He was 82.
Following a role as president of Samsonite Luggage, Pugh became president of VF Corp. in 1980 and chairman and ceo in 1982. During Pugh’s tenure at the helm, VF Corp. grew sales tenfold as the result of his focus on aggressive brand management. Pugh oversaw the acquisition of Blue Bell Holdings, the maker of Wrangler jeans, in 1986 for $378 million. The deal ended the market share lead in the jeans market held by Levi Strauss & Co.
In the early Nineties, VF began to target the women’s business and expanded marketing of the women’s jean’s lines. Under Pugh’s leadership, VF Corp. became one of the first companies to manufacture stretch jeans for women. The company separated the Lee brand of jeans into men’s and women’s categories, creating the Ms. Lee brad, which went on to become the best-selling line of women’s jeans in the U.S. Lee became one of the biggest divisions in the company and generated as much as 80 percent of its revenues in the early Eighties.
In 1990, VF acquired the intimate apparel band Vassarette and Form-O-Uth from Munsingwear for $11.5 million. Pugh also increased advertising for Vanity Fair lingerie and was able to push those sales over $1 billion. In 1991, the company purchased Healthtex for $29 million. In 1994, VF Corp. acquired Nutmeg Industries for $352.2 million and the H.H. Cutler Co. for $154.7 million, which turned it into a leading supplier of licensed sports apparel.
H.H. Cutler combined with Disney to create playwear featuring “The Lion King” which sold out and prompted similar deals for properties including “Pocahontas.” The company’s Jantzen division also worked with Nike in the mid-Nineties to develop a line of performance swimwear.
These types of ideas and projects, along with Pugh’s conservative financial leadership, helped to grow VF Corp.’s sales to more than $5 billion. He took the company from two brands to nearly 24. He stepped down as ceo in 1995, but remained as chairman.
Pugh was also a director of Black & Decker and chairman of UNUM. He was a graduate of Colby College and a life trustee on its board, where he served as chairman for eight years. He was an avid golfer and was on the links just a week before his passing. During his retirement years, he devoted his time and leadership to the boards of multiple community and educational institutions, serving as chairman of the Alfond Scholarship Fund, Portland Museum of Art in Maine (he also had a home in Falmouth, Maine), Reading Hospital, the U.S. Biathlon Olympic committee and board member of Maine Medical Center. He additionally served on the boards of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens as vice chairman, Artis-Naples board, Naples United Church of Christ where he was a deacon, and Boys & Girls club of Collier County. Pugh was also the recipient of numerous awards including two honorary doctorates. He was a U.S. Army veteran.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Jean Van Curan Pugh; two daughters, Deborah Pugh Kelton and Diane Pugh Esecson, and four grandsons. Pugh was born in White Plains, N.Y., to Howard and Marjorie Slosson Pugh.
There will be a memorial service at 11 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, at the Naples United Church of Christ.