DIRECTING DUPONT APPAREL
Byline: Karyn Monget
WILMINGTON, Del. — Bill Ghitis isn’t what would be thought of as the typical IBM type — or DuPont executive, for that matter.
The modern decor of the well-appointed office of DuPont’s president of global apparel at the newly created Textiles & Interiors subsidiary is accented by some unusual accessories. Along one window, a caravan of small Hindu bronze turtles are lined up as if on a journey, while two other whimsical items stand vigil at each corner: a statuette of Bugs Bunny holding an Olympic torch and a miniature black Corvette.
The toy car overlooks a parking lot where Ghitis’ black Corvette is conspicuously parked amid a sea of four-door family cars.
“I collect turtles,” said Ghitis. “They always get to where they want to go, are constantly focused and relentless in their pursuits.”
“I also love paradoxes,” he said, pointing to a framed map facing his desk 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 and his group vice president, Steven R. McCracken, are melding traditional and unorthodox methods to nudge, push, promote and shape DTI apparel and textiles into every nook and cranny of the world.
As Ghitis puts it: “We are the only fiber producer that can be considered a local producer in all regions of the world.”
Regarding his persona and business acumen, McCracken observed: “Bill is one of the most intelligent, energetic people I know, and he has a business sense to him that is textile appropriate — perhaps not in the center of the DuPont curve. He’s definitely not a Boy Scout. He takes a sophisticated, global approach to business, is capable of making a deal and understands relationships with clients and partners.
“Bill worked for me once before for Lycra in Europe. He’s a make-it-happen guy. He also made good things happen in South America, and he’s making many good things happen now at DTI. He’s got my trust. As I look to influence other industry groups, he’s the proper guy to help lead us into a new, successful era.”
Together, Ghitis, 54, and McCracken, 48, along with an experienced marketing and technology team, are backed up by an annual research and development budget in excess of $200 million. Some $60 million of that is dedicated to premium global brands, such as Lycra and Teflon, and niche entities like Tactel, CoolMax, Supplex, Cordura, Thermolite and Aquator. With that muscle, Ghitis, McCracken and crew are determined to make the $6.5 billion spinoff a “major success” within the next year or so.
In addition to its hefty financial support, industry observers generally believe DTI’s winning formula comprises several elements: the creative edge and marketing expertise of DTI executives, access to DuPont’s immense R&D facilities, a unique link between proprietary fibers and its portfolio of global brands and the synergies shared with other DuPont units, such as electronic and communication technologies, coatings and color technologies, and the safety and protection segment.
Among the team’s key personnel are: James A. Trainham, vice president of global technology; Linda Kearns, global Lycra brand manager; Carol R. Gee, DTI’s brand director; Greg Vas Nunes, regional director of Europe and global ready-to-wear, and Juan Aguiriano, who heads DTI’s innovative council.
The chemical giant, which invented nylon, polyester and acrylic, merged all of its textile-related operations into one unit in February and hired Morgan Stanley to explore the possibility of an initial public offering, as reported. A full or partial separation from its DuPont parent is expected by the end of 2003. Richard Goodmanson, DuPont’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, heads up the new subsidiary, formerly known as DuPont Apparel & Textile Sciences.
“Now I have an ambition I’ve never had before, and that is to make this [DTI] a success,” Ghitis said. “It’s never been ambition for me, necessarily. It’s always been drive. It will be a good time to look back in five years and see how successful we’ve actually been, how many new products we’ve introduced and how many young people have succeeded because DTI is a fun and invigorating environment.”
According to Gee, Ghitis and McCracken share “maverick” characteristics when it comes to “ideas that are big and bold.”
“Bill and Steve think alike, and that’s a real blessing for our business,” Gee said. “Bill is sort of a firebrand at DuPont. He’s calmed down a great deal. He can be irritating, pushy and frustrating, as we all can be. But I’ll take him any day. I’m one of his biggest fans. Bill is always willing to take risks, step out of the box and challenge the status quo.”
Meanwhile, a long list of innovative ideas and products are cropping up at DTI. Plans include expanding adaptations of Teflon, a longtime brand of home furnishings and durable, nonstick pots and pans. The new twist will be to make Teflon an easy-care brand in apparel, beginning with trousers and shirts this year and wrinkle-resistant applications in the near future. The potential to grow DTI’s Teflon business crosses into the domain of fiber optic cables and transcends cultural boundaries in areas like Asia, where a growing standard of living is causing higher demand for Westernized products, such as carpeting.
Also incorporating synergies from other DuPont units, DTI has already blended Kevlar — DuPont’s bullet-proof fiber used by the police, the military and even within the Pentagon’s walls as a shield against shrapnel — with cotton denim, adding a tough new dimension of durability to jeanswear.
Ghitis said the concept of Kevlar-blend jeans was introduced in August and is currently featured in an Alpine jeans style of the Polo Sport RLX by Ralph Lauren line. Another “major” jeanswear brand he would not identify is testing the Kevlar product, with plans to commercialize styles soon. Ghitis added that last year’s introduction of Lycra-blend jeans for women and men at Levi’s “was a great success because it added a new spark to the jeans category.”
“We did our research,” Ghitis said. “Those [boomers] who wear a lot of jeans had put on a little weight over the years. They wanted a little more comfort, and Lycra was the answer.”
Addressing concepts still in the experimental stage, Trainham, who oversees DTI’s technological ventures, said the unit is exploring what company officials are calling “textronics”: a combination of electronics and textiles whose objective is similar to that of melding cosmetics and textiles into one soft fabric for intimate apparel or hosiery that moisturizes the skin.
Trainham said ideas include Lycra-blend applications that set the base force in outerwear and activewear garments that are washable and user-friendly with sensors that establish a different set-point regarding what stress level an athlete wants, or doesn’t want, on the body.
“There are certain materials that can change elongation,” he said. “With textronics, we can take it to an active state and increase or decrease the load a muscle can take by dialing in the amount of force.”
He added that more advanced technology is aimed at monitoring respiration, heart beat and perspiration, and if a person’s body is being overstressed.
“We might be able to change the colors of a garment in real time — we can already do that,” said Trainham, citing camouflage colors for the U.S. Armed Forces for desert or jungle terrains that have a “chameleon effect” as having strong potential.
But whatever the technological breakthrough, a key challenge will be to make all of these products affordable to the average consumer, he said.
Regarding DTI and its team, Trainham said: “DTI is the most global enterprise DuPont has. One-half of Asia is DTI, mostly because of the Lycra business. In my game, what you get respect for is intellect and also being able to lead and make things happen. Bill is one of the best leaders I’ve seen. He understands the marketplace so well and knows how to connect. I feel very confident about DTI with Bill and Steve in place. If they weren’t here, I wouldn’t feel so good.”
McCracken noted that DTI is boosting Asian production by 40 percent in the midst of plant expansions that will increase its Lycra manufacturing capacity. Key areas include the opening of a new Lycra plant in Singapore this month, with an annual capacity of 6,000 tons; an expansion of its Shanghai Lycra facility by 6,000 tons by the end of 2002, and a production increase of 4,000 tons of generic spandex in early 2003 at its Lianyungang, China, factory. The reduced costs of operating and building the three plants through new technology will be under $200 million, said McCracken.
Meanwhile, Ghitis talks about himself and his goals over lunch at one of Wilmington’s trendier restaurants, Elizabeth’s, which features photos of famous celebrities all surnamed Elizabeth. Apparently no stranger to the international marketplace, the worldly approach to life and business of the Milan-born Ghitis has been smoothly glossed and packaged over his 29-year tenure at DuPont, where his responsibilities include leading the global apparel portfolio, heading project innovation, managing consumer insights and constructing network leadership.
Fluent in five languages — French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English — Ghitis has worked and lived in locales as diverse as Brazil, Barcelona, Paris, Geneva and the DuPont headquarters.
Having grown up in the textile field, where his father was a well-known importer of Australian wool in Italy, Ghitis said, “The smell and feel of the [wool] fabric has always been with me.”
Wearing a casual solid-black polo shirt and gray wool-blend pants, he recalled, “Anytime our family saw sheep near the road, we would stop the car and thank the sheep for being our resource.”
Asked to cite an example of how a creative approach can build a business in a foreign market, Ghitis remembered a situation in China when he was in the fiberfill business, and DuPont was at the top of its game in the branded pillow business in the U.S. with Pillowtex and J.C. Penney.
“Nobody knew how to make any money there, and it was an extraordinarily competitive environment,” he reflected. “We saw there wasn’t the equivalent of a Pillowtex or Penney’s in China at that time. So we used our core competency and became a pillow manufacturer, with a brand we called An Schui Bao, which means “good night’s sleep.” Through unaided awareness — no prompting, no asking — brand recognition reached 70 percent in Beijing, and the business grew from nothing to a $20 million dollar business.”
Ghitis, who received a bachelor of science degree in engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and completed post-graduate studies at Leeds University in England, has been in his current position since August 2001. Earlier, he 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 serves on the DuPont corporate marketing forum, a team of senior advisers assigned to strengthen DuPont’s marketing competency.
“I love innovation in fabrics, and I love fashion,” said Ghitis. “The separation from DuPont is an extraordinary opportunity for us. But for me, even more because I’ve always been one way or another connected with the textile world. 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: Toray in Japan, whom we have a 50-50 joint venture with Lycra, and then there’s Nylstar in Europe, which does less than $1 billion a year in nylon. We’ve done some analysis, third-party interviews, not only with customers, but across DuPont. Essentially, they all said they had a very high regard for DuPont, our people are well trained, have integrity and are extremely focused and helpful. But, we were told we were slow to react. Now as a separate company, we want to remove that criticism.”
Ghitis outlined the five commandments of DTI’s “consumer values” when assessing a brand’s salability: Comfort, easy care, durability, aesthetics and assurance.
“Money was the focus of all of these aspirations, but we had to find the focus that would align the aspirations with the brands,” said Ghitis.
He described Lycra and its microfiber family of brands like Lycra Soft and Tactel as making apparel, innerwear and hosiery more comfortable and providing a better fit and look; CoolMax and Aquator for keeping a person dry; Thermolite for keeping a person warm, and Cordura and Kevlar for toughness and strength.
“Easy care has become a key global aspiration,” Ghitis said. “This is a terrain nobody has really focused on. So we asked what are the brands, products and technology and decided to introduce Teflon as our easy-care brand. It features stain release, repels stains and eventually will be wrinkle free. At the Salon International de la Lingerie, we formed an alliance with SIBA, a dyeing and finishing company, to bring about easy care from the fabrics and finishes perspective.”