EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Gillon is the new president and chief executive officer of the Cotton Board. In this interview with Cotton Farming, he discusses the challenges ahead for the organization and how he is adjusting to his new leadership position within the cotton industry.
As we move into 2011, what are your general feelings about the position you now have with the Cotton Board?
I am excited about the opportunity to return full-time to the cotton industry, and I look forward to the challenges involved in overseeing the Cotton Research and Promotion Program. We have an excellent professional staff as well as a focused, committed group of industry leaders.
What are your short and long-term goals for the Cotton Board?
My short term goal is to bring stability to the organization so the Board members can focus on their fiduciary roles. Our long-term goals include continued improvements in the working relationship between Cotton Incorporated and the Cotton Board, the maintenance of a strong and representative Board membership and ensuring that the members of the Cotton Board, as well as Cotton Incorporated, have the tools they need to help strengthen demand for and profitability of cotton and cotton products worldwide.
Will the relationship with Cotton Incorporated change any?
The relationship between the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated has evolved a great deal over the years. Recently, the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated have reviewed and restructured that relationship. The two organizations now meet together more often to review budgets and the overall operation of the Cotton Research and Promotion Program. Cotton Incorporated has worked to integrate a set of “metrics” into its review and reporting process. There is significant give-and-take between the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated during review sessions. These changes are still being refined, but are paying off.
I intend for the Cotton Board’s relationship with Cotton Incorporated to be positive, encouraging and proactive. Cotton Incorporated has excellent leadership, exceptional staff and an outstanding record of accomplishment. We will work hard at the Cotton Board to ensure Cotton Incorporated is able to continue that standard.
How about the importance of the importers in the future success of the Research and Promotion Program?
The term “importers” is not very reflective of the activities of many of these companies. It is more accurate to think of them as “brands and retailers.” They are the companies who market cotton products directly to consumers – like Walmart and Macy’s, for example; and they are companies who develop branded products that are sold directly to consumers or through other retailers – like Ralph Lauren and The Limited.
These companies source cotton products from all over the world. Their market knowledge, experience and insight are, I believe, critically important to our ability to understand shifts in consumer preference, marketing hurdles and trade flows. They bring a lot to the table.
As the global economy continues to improve, can demand for U.S. cotton increase as well?
We will work to increase global demand for U.S. cotton. That is a central part of our mission. The United States uses more cotton per-capita than any other country. We will continue the work to maintain cotton’s strong domestic market share while creating programs to drive up worldwide demand for cotton, in general. There is a lot of room to increase demand for cotton in other countries.
What are the biggest challenges facing the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated in the next few years?
Maintaining demand for cotton products, in the face of high cotton fiber prices, is a significant short term challenge that must be met if our long-term goal of increasing cotton’s use over competing fibers is to be a reality. However, I believe we have some tremendous opportunities ahead for our industry.
Cotton Incorporated is completing its life cycle analysis of cotton and cotton products. I am optimistic the analysis will demonstrate that cotton, as a natural fiber, is positioned to capitalize on world demand for a sustainable product. Likewise, I believe the dataset put together by Cotton Incorporated will set a standard for life cycle analysis in this area. In addition, the critical re-search that is carried out by Cotton Incorporated will continue to give cotton new market opportunities as new fabrics and new capabilities enhance U.S. cotton’s overall performance.
How will your long-standing relationships within the industry help you in this new job?
I have worked for the cotton industry since 1992 and much of that work has been done shoulder-to-shoulder with many of the industry’s current leaders. I have tremendous respect for our industry’s volunteer leaders and for the professional staff of Cotton Incorporated and the National Cotton Council as well as producer and importer organizations.
I know enough to recognize these organizations are working in the industry’s best interests. We are in the same boat, so to speak. The relationships I have in this industry will help ensure we are not only in the same boat, but we are all paddling in the same direction.
Contact Bill Gillon at the Cotton Board at firstname.lastname@example.org or (901) 683-2500 or visit the organization’s Web site at www.cottonboard.org.
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