Filling underserved needs is a high priority at the new Charlotte School of Law, a for-profit institution with a pragmatic approach to teaching and learning.
Dean E. Eugene (“Gene”) Clark, who signed on with the school in late 2005, left Australia for Charlotte and the school, which welcomed its first students this past August. He sees unmet legal education needs in Charlotte, and to address those needs, he likes the teaching model of the Charlotte School of Law.
“What excites me,” says Clark, “is a legal education that is extremely student-centered. It is based on outcomes, and we will be judged by the outcomes we produce in the lives of our students, which includes not only success in law school, not only a high bar passage rate, but also a fulfilling career afterwards.”
Before arriving in Charlotte, the Kansas-born Clark was executive dean of the Faculty of Law, Business and Arts at Charles Darwin University in Australia’s Northern Territory. This involved leadership of four schools (including law) across six campuses. He forged a 30-year education career in the Land Down Under.
His wife Pat has long-established roots in North Carolina, however. Her mother was a tribal member of the Cherokee Nation and her family was among the Cherokees that were moved from the Blue Ridge Mountains to an Oklahoma reservation.
Clark is practical in his vision for this new institution: He hopes they can address the gaps between what prospective lawyers learn in class and what they are expected to know once they begin practicing.
“We’re making a far more serious commitment to skills and to comprehensive professional development,” Clark says, “and it’s really a professional degree compared to the traditional model.”
By reaching out to underserved populations, Clark means for Charlotte School of Law to offer this type of education to those who might not otherwise have access to it. In its inaugural class, 18 percent of Charlotte School of Law’s students are people of color.
The focus on an underserved population reflects an emphasis of The InfiLaw System, the parent company of Charlotte School of Law, as well as sister campuses Phoenix School of Law and Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Fla. Now a decade old and accredited by the American Bar Association, Florida Coastal has become the nation’s only law school where minority students have outperformed those of the majority on the state bar exam.
Based in Naples, Fla., InfiLaw’s chief executive Rick Inatome is managing director of Sterling Partners, a $300 million private equity fund. A technology industry pioneer, Inatome founded a computer company as a 17-year-old and, in a decade, transformed it into Inacom, a Fortune 500 firm with approximately 20,000 employees. He is a champion of bringing minorities into the American business mainstream.
Ensconced in a Georgian-style building on East Morehead Street, Charlotte School of Law has already begun serving a city and region that Clark views as underserved. Until this new campus opened, Charlotte was the largest city in the United States without a law school. North Carolina is the 48th state in number of lawyers per capita and South Carolina ranks last.
The new law school occupies 33,600 square feet in the three-story Morehead Street structure that had been home to legal firms for decades. It also operates classrooms in 10,000 square feet of a building on Harding Place, a block away. Total employment is 40, including 12 lawyers on staff and six full-time faculty. Clark expects the faculty to double for next fall.
Meanwhile, in another non-traditional move, Charlotte School of Law will accept approximately 20 more students for admission this month.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for December college graduates or for people who don’t want to wait until August,” says Victoria Taylor Carter, assistant dean of admissions. A Greensboro native who graduated from the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, Taylor Carter came to the new Charlotte school after working in human resources handling employee matters for Wachovia, a stone’s throw away in center city.
Taylor Carter offers a catalogue of statistics on the school and its students. It received 1,010 applications for the first class. They came from 46 states. The school accepted 420 and a bit fewer than half of those sent in seat deposits. That ultimately produced 85 students for the initial class, with some from as far away as Hawaii and Maine.
A full 75 percent come from the Greater Charlotte region. In the full-time program, 48 percent are men and 52 percent women, and their average age is 27 or 28. Of 18 part-timers, 55 percent are men. Overall, students’ ages range from 21 to 48.
Tuition is $26,900 for full-time and $21,700 part-time. Clark calls that roughly equivalent to out-of-state tuition at UNC Chapel Hill, and Taylor Carter adds that financial help is readily available. About half the first class gets financial aid through loans or scholarships.
“We’ve got a very generous merit scholar program,” she says, “and wonderful lenders that we work with. We have a nice partnership with Wachovia for folks to look at some other creative financing.”
She believes attrition will be low, partly because of a strong academic support program that recognizes differences in learning styles. The school soon will add a career services director to help students find summer work as well as post-graduation employment.
Provisional ABA Accreditation takes 24 to 36 months, Taylor Carter says, adding that the school is working hard to make that happen before the first class graduates in 2009. A team from the American Bar Association will visit the school in fall 2007. ABA provisional approval by spring 2008 is the school’s goal, with full approval targeted for 2010. Students who graduate from a provisionally accredited law school are entitled to sit for the bar exam.
And why would an employer consider a Charlotte School of Law grad? Taylor Carter has a ready response.
“Our inaugural class, they’re part of something that isn’t an established shop,” she says. “They’re willing to take the risk and join us in this journey. These are the kind of folks that are going to be bulldogs. They’re not afraid of work.”
Indeed, Adam Bridgers says he picked Charlotte School of Law partly because he likes the Queen City and also because he’s not averse to risk. From the Wilmington area, Bridgers was student body vice president in his junior year at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he graduated with a bachelor’s in political science in May 2006.
Risk a Success Factor
“You look at individuals in American society that we consider successful and what’s one common factor?” Bridgers asks. “It’s risk. A key to success is risk-taking. Look at Bill Gates and people like that. It is taking a risk to be at a new school, but I believe it’s a healthy risk.”
Dean Clark, 58, is no stranger to risk, having left the predictable life of a Kansas attorney to teach in Australia. He acknowledges the entrepreneurial spirit of the school’s first class and adds that the legal education the school offers is focused on outcomes in students’ lives.
He thinks another attraction is the quality of people associated with the school. Its board includes Burley Mitchell, retired chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, and is chaired by Shirley Fulton, a former N.C. Superior Court judge.
Art Gallagher, president of the Charlotte campus of Johnson & Wales University, says he joined the school’s board because he was impressed with its leadership, student-centered approach and commitment to serve the underserved. “The core values at Charlotte School of Law are similar to those at Johnson & Wales University,” he says.
Clark values advice Gallagher shared. “If you have a commitment to the community, you will get rewarded ten-fold,” Gallagher told him. “The community has welcomed the school,” Clark says, “and that has reinforced our desire and commitment to be part of the community.”
Charlotte School of Law won’t turn a profit for at least seven years, Clark says, but it is contributing to the Charlotte region in many ways already. Not the least of these is developing people who will add value to companies and organizations, regardless of whether their core function is the law.
“The law degree is becoming akin to a premiere master’s of business administration degree,” Clark says, adding that banks are among the biggest hirers of attorneys these days because of the heavily regulated environment in which they operate. “Training in law develops conceptual thinking, and argumentative and other skills that are of the highest order,” he adds.
An Image That Will Grow
Asked about the longer term future for Charlotte School of Law, Clark points to a greeting card he plans to send to one of his two daughters, both of whom are on tennis scholarships at Montana State University. It pictures a housecat staring into a mirror and seeing the image of a male lion.
“We will be a law school highly regarded by its students and employers,” he says. Students will be helping with legal aid, working part-time in government and in various law firms.
“We will be deeply embedded in the region,” he continues in painting his view of a decade from now. “Our faculty will contribute to innovation in Charlotte. We are adding value, bringing people in and creating jobs. We will have invested millions of dollars in the Charlotte community.”
He expects the school will find larger quarters in two or three years.
Clark would be open to cooperating with area schools, such as UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte, to give their M.B.A. students an opportunity to combine that degree with a Juris Doctor from Charlotte School of Law. He might even consider a law school partnership with either campus.
“We’re going to be successful in our own right,” he says, “but we would be open and responsive if there is a value proposition that is good for both organizations.”
But for now, Clark concentrates on producing quality graduates. Re-emphasizing a commitment to teaching, Clark says Charlotte School of Law administers a rarity—a mid-term exam. Further, professors sit down with students and give feedback on their graded papers. Every student must have a personal laptop computer. Classrooms and gathering spots are festooned with electric sockets.
Each graduate will have built an electronic portfolio and will be able to show a prospective employer a compact disc that includes writing samples and excerpts from making a mock argument.
“We’re big on evidence,” Clark says. “We’re not based on anecdotes.”
Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
Behind the academic machinery at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is a visionary who reaches for the seemingly unattainable and makes it a reality. An engineer by degree, he is every bit the calibrator of disparate forces, and calculator of alternate resources, turning working capital and human resources into top-notch intellectual capital.
Jim Woodward is Chancellor of UNC Charlotte, the equivalent of a CEO to the Charlotte campus. Woodward has an exalted mission for this school: to be one the finest publicly funded research institutions. He also has a fierce commitment to the city that supports it, believing it to be pivotal to the university’s success. It is very clear that his vision for the university is viewed through the pane of strategic business processes. He sees the financial fluidity of the region, its major industries and political backbone as the primary vehicles for UNC Charlotte’s growth. In turn, the university provides the research and human talent that enable the economic community to prosper and continue to fuel the institution. Woodward’s vision can be attributed to an unusual combination of impressive academic achievement and deep immersion in private sector business. He joined UNC Charlotte as its third Chancellor in 1989 after serving on distinguished faculties including the U.S. Air Force Academy, N.C. State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
In some of his most valuable work experience, Woodward used his doctorate in Engineering Mechanics to consult several years for Rust Engineering Company, an international engineering and construction firm. This position solidified the union of his engineering discipline and business expertise. It also allowed him to keep his feet planted in the private sector. According to Woodward, “The position required me to interface between the engineering plans and the funds analysis of projects. I spent a lot of time providing capital expenditure analysis.”
Woodward returned to the University of Alabama, serving as dean of engineering and senior vice president of Academic Affairs for five years, before accepting the chancellorship of UNC Charlotte. He recalls, “I was attracted to UNC Charlotte because it wasn’t fully developed. I saw a huge amount of potential in Charlotte, and I wanted to work hand-in-hand with its business leaders to recognize that potential.”
Woodward places a lot of responsibility on the campus to serve its local citizens. Of the administrators who will admit to having ‘customers’, many believe the customer is a combination of the student and parent choosing the school. But Woodward says this definition is far too narrow. “The most important concept in a public institution is the word ‘public,’” he explains.
“UNC Charlotte is here not just to educate the students and set them loose to go wherever. We have a heavy commitment to make sure that our programs are in the best interest of local industry, and that we are providing top-notch intellectual capital for businesses. The citizens of North Carolina have invested heavily in UNC Charlotte and the onus is on us to make sure we are contributing back into the local economy, thereby making it attractive for our graduates to stay in Charlotte and the surrounding areas.
Using Resources Wisely
In 2000, the citizens of North Carolina voted for a $3.1 billion bond referendum for Higher Education Improvement. Of that, $192 million is currently being used to add 600,000 square feet to the campus, including 180,000 square feet designated for state-of-the-art science and technology buildings that will support and enhance The Charlotte Research Institute. The institute focuses on three programs: Optoelectronics and Optical Communications, Precision Metrology and eBusiness. These programs were thoroughly researched and designed to generate talent that will feed directly back into the state economy. With North Carolina’s preeminence in the glass fiber market, its numerous banking institutions relying heavily on security, privacy and systems, plus textiles, manufacturing and the motorsports industry, it is evident that the strategy for UNC Charlotte’s expansion was methodically engineered to the area.
Woodward points out, “With these programs, UNC Charlotte is optimally positioned to provide the finest education, and the finest candidates in their fields, nationally and internationally. We anticipate that this will feed directly back into the regional economy.”
Woodward has spent a lot of time developing UNC Charlotte’s size, programs, amenities and buildings to nurture its vision. In addition to the three buildings within the Research Institute, a humanities building, an admissions building, a College of Health and Human Services, a new student union, a formidable College of Education building, plus parking and facilities management buildings are planned. Add to that a chancellor’s residence, alumni center and residence halls, and that’s a lot of bricks.
Expanding with Growth
Chancellor Woodward works diligently to secure funding and continue planning the programs and facilities to serve and enhance the experience of the ever-expanding enrollment at UNC Charlotte. This year the campus will accommodate more than 19,000 students, and enrollment is expected to rise to 25,000 students by 2008. Compare that to the 12,500 students at UNC Charlotte when Woodward started in 1989, and the need for expansion is evident.
The improvements are not just for the students, however. Woodward explains, “This expansion is significant on several scales. One, these projects demonstrate a significant commitment to the community. Two, they help provide a larger pool of talent for local industry. And three, and very importantly, the new programs and space enhance the prestige of the campus, thereby making it more attractive to faculty talent.”
He adds, “The bottom line is, you have to be able to attract good people. We compete nationally for every faculty position we have to fill. Last year we had a net gain of 50 faculty members; this year we will have a net gain of 55. If you look at our professors’ qualifications, you can’t help but be impressed. Our faculty members have superior credentials, and many of them choose this university for its vision and commitment. They see that UNC Charlotte is an institution growing in size, programs and prestige. They want to share the experience of building something important, to have their intellectual and personal vision influence the character of the university, the intellectual community and the regional community.”
One of the ways that Woodward sought to increase the stature of UNC Charlotte on a national scale was to introduce doctoral programs. In fact, he credits this as his most significant accomplishment, as well as his most challenging. “Financing doctoral programs is incredibly expensive because of the resources necessary to run them – the equipment, technology and project funding. However,” he adds, “without the Ph.D. programs, we would not have the research base necessary to support the economic development of Charlotte.”
Securing approval for these programs is no easy task. Adds Woodward, “The review of Ph.D. implementation must be approved by the Board of Governors for the North Carolina University System. It is my responsibility to assure that we select the right programs for proposal, to submit compelling justifications for approval, and to see that once they are created they are operating optimally.”
UNC Charlotte started three Ph.D. programs in 1994, and has expanded to eleven to date. It has awarded 111 Ph.D.’s. Woodward anticipates increasing doctoral offerings at the rate of one program per year.
Raising the Stakes
Critics say that overemphasizing research can dilute student education due to the redirection of resources and faculty. Similarly, many disagree with the idea of education being run as a business, believing that learning should be undertaken as its own reward. Woodward maintains, “I think you run the enterprise as a business. You plan properly, invest your resources in concert with that, hold people to high standards and reward them when those standards are accomplished. Then, you undergird them with an efficient management system.”
Woodward continues, “This in no way detracts from the core nature of the university, which is to discover and communicate knowledge. Research is the discovery, teaching is the communication. There is no conflict between that core activity and running an efficient business.”
It is difficult to argue with this. Since Woodward has been chancellor, he has secured significant resources for UNC Charlotte. Though his efforts the university’s Silver Anniversary fundraiser garnered $32 million – twice the university goal. He has raised millions in bond issues and appropriations funding, and most recently has met $90 million of a $100 million fund drive over the past three years.
And he can ‘show you the money’. Among the results of his fundraising efforts are the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center, Irwin Belk Track and Field Center, the doubling of the Atkins Library and doctoral programs in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Biology and Information Technology, not to mention the “master plan” for the current expansion.
He also laid the groundwork for a competitive intercollegiate athletics program. UNC Charlotte is now a member of Conference USA, which has garnered UNC Charlotte national exposure. “Athletics are the most visible university activity to the public. It’s been said that ‘Athletics are the lens though which the public sees a university.’ It is essential that we build and maintain a successful and honest athletic program, as it puts us in the spotlight and then reflects upon the whole university.”
In addition to the buildings, programs, athletics and faculty, a consistent management style has also enabled the university to complete a totally revised General Education Curriculum. This revision was a major accomplishment, which required each department to reevaluate its own curriculum. For the project to be successful, a great
synergy and cooperation was needed in what is often a very combative arena. Each department fears losing resources, especially funds, to another. To finalize this objective is remarkable; Duke University attempted it five years ago and eventually abandoned it.
The Budget Bear
It is certainly no secret that the current state of the economy and deep state budget cuts are taking their toll on public universities. Yet, Woodward remains steadfastly focused on the task at hand. “The current financial difficulties will in no way impact the scope, vision or commitment to our master plan. Our plan is the right one for UNC Charlotte. It may be implemented at a slower pace than we had originally anticipated, but we fully intend to become the next major publicly funded research university.”
He adds, “There is, interestingly, a positive side to budget cuts. Of course they are bad, because they are cuts, but they also require you to streamline the processes, and eliminate unnecessary expenditures, which increase the operational efficiency of the university. By focusing resources and increasing efficiency I believe that we have effectively minimized the impact of the budget cuts.”
Woodward admits to some sacrifices, “We have had to increase class size, and we have had to reduce the number of sections in some offerings, which can make meeting graduation requirements more complicated. I am worried about this, but I don’t believe there has been any permanent damage. However, if these cuts were to continue I believe we could begin losing our most valuable asset – our faculty. Faculty talent is highly mobile, and UNC Charlotte educators haven’t had a decent raise in four years.”
Woodward maintains, “If you can predict your financial situation, you can manage it. We have the highest quality, and strongest strategic planning process around. By making our own predictions from our own data, we will work to fend off any lasting damage.”
Turning back to the positive, he adds, “Right now though, there is a very high degree of morale on campus, and the general attitude is that our expansion is making the campus and the institution a place to be proud of, and a place people want to work. The growth is a symbolic commitment to our faculty and to our city that we are going to answer the call and become a national leader. UNC Charlotte will be a distinguished university that properly serves the needs of the citizens of North Carolina and Charlotte.”
Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
A textile manufacturing company in Union County produces a high performance tape strong enough to protect soldiers in Iraq and gentle enough to be used for dental floss and surgical sutures. Based on Japanese technology, Integrated Textile Systems began manufacturing the high strength material Tensylon at its plant in Monroe in 1999. Two major acquisitions over the past two years have created international attention for the versatile product.
Integrated Textile Systems was acquired by Armor Holdings in July 2006. A year later, Armor itself was acquired by BAE Systems, a giant in the global defense and aerospace industry. BAE Systems delivers a full range of products and services for air, land and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, information technology solutions and customer support services. Renamed Tensylon High Performance Materials, the company is a subsidiary of their Land and Armaments operating group.
“These acquisitions are very positive for this little business,” says Lisa Owen, vice president and general manager of Tensylon. “Armor offered $3 billion in sales, while BAE Systems gives us a $27 billion pie to go after.”
The acquisitions have also impacted the Monroe facility, which has recently added 18,000 square feet to its original 30,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The plant expansion cost an estimated $7.9 million and supports 42 jobs, more than doubling the plant’s work force. The company is expected to employ about 60 people by the end of this year, when additional production lines may be added, Owen says. The facility also houses the research and development operation.
The reason for all this attention is that the Monroe site is the only place in the world that manufactures Tensylon materials, which are derived from an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene polymer and utilized in a wide variety of applications, including advanced fiber composites in ballistic products.
The Tensylon high performance fiber or tape can be processed into any number of specially tailored composites, depending on the unique application. It is one of the materials being used for ballistic protection in the crew cabin of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicles currently deployed in Iraq. It can also be used in the M1114 Up-Armored HMMWV.
“BAE Systems acquired all the technology, assets and know-how associated with Tensylon,” says Owen. “The only machines in the world that produce Tensylon are here in Monroe.”
Owen, a native of South Carolina, earned a bachelor degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Carolina in 1986 and spent 10 years working in high performance fibers for Allied Signal, now Honeywell International. After acquiring an M.B.A. from the Richard S. Reynolds Graduate School of Business at the University of Richmond in Virginia, she joined the rigid packaging business of NatureWorks LLC, an international biopolymer manufacturer. In this role, Owen was responsible for the commercialization and global implementation of a new platform of renewable thermoplastic polymers for rigid packaging.
“For twenty years, I was a real ‘material girl,’” laughs Owen, “working with plastic, fibers and armor materials. I loved it; I understood the end result and liked developing strategies for commercialization.”
In the 19 months since joining Armor Holdings in 2006, Owen has faced a different set of challenges, overseeing two acquisition assimilations, managing the site expansion, dealing with equipment and technology vendors from all over the world, and, perhaps her biggest challenge, staffing the plant.
“We run 24/7,” she says, “and it is a physically intensive environment. We plan to reach 60 employees by late 2008 or early 2009, and I’m not sure we’ll stop there.”
In her current position, Owen is responsible for the integration of the Tensylon business and technology into the BAE Systems products portfolio. Linda Hudson, president of BAE Systems Land and Armaments based in Arlington, Virginia, is well-known to many in the Charlotte business world from her active work with the Chamber of Commerce while she was president of Charlotte-based General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products.
Hudson still maintains a home in Charlotte and she attended the special grand opening ceremony which BAE Systems held in December to celebrate the expansion of the Tensylon facility in Monroe made possible by a $40,000 One North Carolina Fund grant and an economic development grant of up to $86,820 provided by the Union County Board of Commissioners. BAE Systems invested $7.9 million in Monroe in 2007.
“We have a very dedicated work force and Monroe is a terrific community,” Hudson told the congressional and community members who gathered for the ceremony. “We appreciate the support we have received from the state and the county and look forward to contributing to the economic vitality of the region.”
So, what is Tensylon and why is there so much interest in it? Tensylon is similar to other high performance fiber materials, including para-aramids, fiberglass and other ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene fibers, but Tensylon products create a unique combination of ballistic and structural performance, weight and cost savings when compared with these other fibers.
The polyethylene used in Tensylon is a powder. This powder is subjected to extreme pressures and tightly controlled temperature as it is passed through rollers to make a very thin sheet that is then slit to form fibers. The fibers are then either woven or laid parallel in the same plane and crossplied at angles to one another to produce specially tailored composites, depending on the application requirements.
“It has the strength and ability to absorb energy,” says Owen. “It floats in water; it is chemically and abrasion resistant. It is very strong and durable.”
Tensylon will not stretch out over time, as nylon does, for instance. With no “creep properties,” it can be used to tether offshore oil platforms to the ocean floor. Other applications include aerospace, sporting goods, high performance sails, ropes, cordage and netting. Johnson & Johnson uses Tensylon in one type of its Reach dental floss. However, Tensylon’s most immediate applications have been for troop protection products, such as wheeled-vehicle systems, helmets and body armor for military customers.
“This is a young technology and our team is proud to be pioneers in the development, manufacturing and marketing of Tensylon for the protection of our troops,” says Owen.
The Monroe plant produces about 100,000 pounds of polyethylene fiber per month. Further growth next year may double that, Owen says. While all of that capacity is currently being used to support military programs, Owen expects that some of the plant’s production may be funneled to commercial applications in 2008. Tensylon has shown great promise in everything from tennis racquets to fishing nets, but the applications development program has been put on hold to meet the needs of the U.S. military.
Utilizing innovation, state-of-the-art engineering and technology to support military forces is a tradition at BAE Systems which dates back to 1560 when the Royal Powder Factory was established at Waltham Abbey in Essex, England. Today, BAE Systems’ Land and Armaments operating group encompasses major business operations in South Africa, Sweden, across the United Kingdom and the United States.
BAE Systems is currently playing a major and increasing role in protecting front-line troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from roadside bombs and ambushes through the design and manufacture of three different vehicles for the U.S. Department of Defense’s MRAP armed vehicle program, which is being spearheaded by the U.S. Marine Corps. MRAPs are the Pentagon’s top acquisition priority to meet today’s threats and BAE Systems-designed and built vehicles account for more than 4,300 of almost 6,400 ordered so far, with total potential defense requirements in excess of 20,000 vehicles.
The Caiman 6×6 is one of the variants of the MRAP armored vehicles currently deployed in Iraq which uses Tensylon in the composite anti-ballistic door panels. There are currently 1,838 Caimans under contract. Tensylon can also replace fiberglass in the M1114 Up-armored HMMWV driver door. The Tensylon liner is thinner and lighter than fiberglass, but provides equal ballistic protection. Tensylon can also be used for personal armor protection and helmets for troops.
Tensylon panels retain stiffness and delaminate less than other polyethylene composites after initial hits, resulting in better multi-hit performance and making it ideal for protecting soldiers in armored vehicles. Owen compares it to a catcher’s mitt; while the outer steel and aluminum shell deform and slow a projectile, the Tensylon panel inside absorbs the interior spall resulting from the projectile impact, stopping these secondary projectiles.
While Owen believes Tensylon has unique attributes for armor and non armor use, early exploration of its properties has been concentrated on the military side.
“There are similar benefits for the commercial side, but that’s in the future,” she says. “The immediate future, based on demand/capacity, lies in meeting the needs of the domestic military, as well as the military abroad.”
Even if the war in Iraq were to end tomorrow, the replenishment of lost vehicles and the need for future military readiness will keep the military demand high. Owen expects that long term the manufacture of Tensylon will continue to expand and grow. She envisions that growth may even result in the opening of other facilities to produce even more of the innovative fiber.
Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
Coming from a long line of country folk, I can tell you two things: our men knew how to work long hours, and the women prided themselves on their homemade biscuits.
So, you can imagine my grandmother’s chagrin once she and grandpa moved to Charlotte in the late 1970s and he discovered…Bojangles’! Though they hardly ever went out to eat, grandfather would frequently take a side route during his ‘errands’ to sit down for some biscuits with gravy, grits, and sausage. I’ll never forget how great it was to sit with him while enjoying Bojangles’ warm southern smells and country surroundings. With grandpa it was always, “Let’s go to Bo’s.”
This is but one example of why Bojangles’ continues to prosper since Jack Fulk and Richard Thomas founded it in 1977. The vision of these men was three-fold: to develop a quick-service restaurant featuring a distinctive, spicy flavor profile; to offer wholesome, made-from-scratch foods; and to present it in a fun, festive restaurant design with fast and friendly service. They developed a menu with the chain’s legendary fresh buttermilk biscuits, unique Southern side dishes like Dirty Rice and Cajun Pintos, and a recipe for fried chicken that has come to rival not only quick-service fried chicken competitors, but also many roadside mom and pop stores as well.
Since its humble beginning as a single store here in Charlotte, Bojangles’ trademark dedication to fresh food and friendly service has sealed its reputation for Southern cooking and Southern charm, and garnered a legion of fans and a loyal following for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Growth has catapulted nationally to over 350 locations in the Southeast, Midwest and New York/Pennsylvania region, and internationally to locations in China, Honduras and Jamaica. In addition to its 35 new locations opened in 2004, the company anticipates a total of 40 to 50 more by year-end.
Charlotte’s little chicken franchise has truly spread its wings.
The chicken and the egg
Bojangles’ has had its share of ups and downs, just like any other food chain, concomitant with its frequently changing ownership. After experiencing a solid start that carried the chain through the mid 1980s, it suffered a fate common to quick service restaurants: overexpansion, asset drain by venture capitalists, and discontented franchisees. Bojangles’ recipe for success appeared to be going stale.
Enter Joe Drury, a seasoned restaurateur who began his career at the age of 14 sweeping the floors in an Akron, Ohio, fast food restaurant. His passion for the business and seasoned work ethic helped him rise quickly through the ranks; Drury was supervising eight restaurants by the time he was 20 years old. From there, Drury joined Wendy’s International as a manager-trainee under the tutelage of CEO and mentor Jim Near, and moved to vice president of the company after decades of learning the business inside and out. Today, Drury is one of the central cogs credited with facilitating Wendy’s remarkable turnaround in the late 1980s.
Drury left Wendy’s International in 1991 to become CEO of the Carolina Restaurant Group, which purchased a number of Wendy’s franchises in the throes of bankruptcy. By implementing a powerful formula of hiring, training, refurbishing, remodeling, and marketing, Drury and his partners purchased the group and led the franchises to 172 percent growth in eight years.
Recalls Drury, “What we saw in the late 1980s and 1990s was that the fast food industry simply forgot what had made it a success. By creating a climate of incredibly low expectations with regard to quality, cleanliness and friendly service, while at the same time growing too rapidly, it basically brought about its own problems.”
While spearheading the rehabilitation of the stores he purchased, Drury says he was always eyeing the Bojangles’ concept. “What really called out to me was Bojangles’ distinctive food and presentation. You should be able to take down all the signage from a location, de-identify it entirely, and still be able to recognize it. The founders, Jack and Richard knew this and were well ahead of their time when they created Bojangles’.”
In the early 1990s when Drury was visiting Charlotte on a Wendy’s business trip, he was so taken with the restaurant he went back to Wendy’s founder and chairman, Dave Thomas, and suggested the two restaurants build side-by-side locations: “Everything about Wendy’s and Bojangles’ compliment one another, their flavor profiles, day part percentages and presentation.” Thomas agreed that the pairing couldn’t hurt, and Drury’s passion for his Wendy’s family and his future venture was cemented.
To this day Drury credits his mentors, the late Jim Near and Dave Thomas at Wendy’s for the opportunity to grow, for important lessons on how to run the business, and for having the faith to take risks. Comments Drury, “To this day, Wendy’s is still a family to me. If it weren’t for those guys seeing something special in what was once just a rough-necked kid, and the faith of my original partners, Cami and DeeDee Harris, Keith and Luddy Stowman, and Darryl and Andrea Ferguson, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Cooking up good management
Commanding his experience rebuilding bottomed-out eateries, Joe Drury was given the opportunity to jump on board the Bojangles’ bandwagon in 2001 as CEO and the chain’s fifth owner. Wendy’s Dave Thomas helped Drury with his non-compete agreement and introduced Drury to Hugh McColl, who was courting Wendy’s business. McColl facilitated the financing for Drury to buy out the previous CEO, Glenn Gulledge.
Right out of the gate, Drury attacked the company’s management structure. By combining veterans and new-blood alike, his immediate goal was to create a management force whose vision extended beyond immediate profits, to one that would see the brand well into the future. Explains Drury, “The industry had been drained by investors interested in making a quick buck, but the food service industry is not constructed that way. To survive in the long haul, you must be committed to devoting all the resources possible to your product, your teambuilding, and your presentation. What we saw were stores suffering from outdated equipment, poor-looking decor and uniforms, run-down facades, no promotion and an extremely dispirited morale.”
He continues, “Our plan was to stop planning new locations and start cleaning up our own backyard.” The new team updated operations, and focused on training and employee incentives. Says Drury, “We needed great operators, and an environment where our employees could feel secure and appreciated, as well as being given growth potential. I don’t care if you are 14 or 45; everyone needs these things to perform and to feel good about what they are doing.”
Drury recalls a memory from his Wendy’s International days, “People always noticed that Dave Thomas would walk right by all the ‘suits’ at Wendy’s. His first conversation would always be with those employees at the serving line. He knew that that was the backbone of the whole operation.”
Training is very much Bojangles’ spinal cord. Drury says, “The biggest and best investment we have made is in our franchisee training.” The corporate headquarters in south Charlotte clearly heralds this mission; its facade carries the bold red and yellow Bojangles’ signage, and the inside of the office is a combination of offices, conference rooms, and an on-site restaurant training area. At this facility, franchisees undergo carefully formulated and formalized classes in surrounds the same as their locations.
In addition to a carefully guarded regimen of ‘training up’ its employees, Bojangles’ also empowers its franchisees and managers with the voice and responsibility of making their own decisions.
“We had to overcome the perception that a corporate office was little more than a vulture looking for licensing fees. We care about our franchisees’ success, and they know they have an advocate within these walls. Our people work their heart out on the line, and they know we support their initiative. I am proud that they also know that there is someone behind this desk who has been there as an employee and a franchisee, and can see issues from their point of view,” he smiles.
Feeding a hungry market
While the nutritional demands and aesthetics of the food service culture have evolved considerably, Bojangles’ recipe for success has changed little. Bojangles’ traditional menu offers a variety that pleases its customers, while also introducing some newer items for the calorie/carbohydrate-conscious set.
Explains Drury, “We have introduced wraps, grilled fillets, and salads in many locations, and we are constantly considering ways to provide the tastiest product in the healthiest manner. At the same time, we are dedicated to providing the essence of who we are. Fried chicken is a tasty treat; nobody suggests eating it every day of the week. We are proud of what has satisfied so many customers over the decades, and we simply will not apologize for who we are.”
At the same time, Drury says his team is working to update the interiors and exteriors of its restaurants. “Given today’s environment, we want to remove the neon lights and hard seating that gives people the feeling they are being rushed. And the outsides of the stores are being built with tasteful aesthetics, like nice brick and well-placed windows that mesh well with the communities that surround them. The intent is to create a warm, comfortable appearance.”
Despite the popularity and continuing growth of the restaurant chain, Drury refuses to sacrifice quality. “We are very careful in our expansion. We spread out, rather than hop around, and we make sure that every new location has the components in place to be successful, especially in terms of operators. We plan smart growth. But there is no doubt in my mind that Bojangles’ has got legs; it will travel.”
Apparently the time is ripe for growing the reach of Bojangles’ fresh fixin’s. By identifying key positions in places like Myrtle Beach, Atlanta and Florida, as well as areas along the I-77 corridor, the company is preparing to attract a lot of attention. “By identifying places where we are visible, and providing a very satisfying experience, we are not only creating a new generation of loyal customers, but also the potential for interested operators.”
The company offers several store options for potential franchisees including an in-line design, a co-branded option for the convenience store industry, and the impressive free-standing model.
No matter what the location, Drury also insists that the company give back to the communities that support Bojangles’ with their patronage. Comments Drury, “You can’t just put up a sign and ask people to spend their money. You need to be involved in the community. Take care of the sports teams, feed the PTA, give away cups to non-profit groups.” He adds, “You don’t do it for the PR, and you certainly don’t ask for press. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Drury obviously has all the ingredients right. His full size average unit sales are $1.5 million and rising, and he says, some of the chain’s oldest franchises are the ones planning for the most growth. “That, Drury says, has got to be the biggest compliment I think we, as a company, can get.”
Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
Over the last 30 years, turkey production has evolved from a primarily holiday-oriented business into a year-round product, thanks to an increasing consumer awareness of nutrition and a variety of new processed turkey products like deli meats and ground turkey. According to the National Turkey Federation, total domestic production has increased 110 percent since 1970 to almost 250 million birds every year.
Turkey offers more nutritional benefits than other meats, and its relatively mild flavor makes it also easy to use across recipes and easy to substitute for other meats in recipes.
Compared to chicken, beef or pork, turkey offers more protein per portion, as well as the amino acid required for complete protein usage. Just one serving of turkey provides 65 percent of the recommended daily intake of protein. Also by comparison, turkey is richer in calcium, lower in calories, lower in fat, lower in cholesterol (also less saturated fat and a better ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fats) and lower in sodium.
North Carolina is the nation’s second largest turkey-producing state, raising over 32 million birds annually, trailing only Minnesota’s 46 million. One of the state’s largest vertical integrators in turkey production —Circle S Ranch—is based just down the road from Charlotte in rural Union County, just south of Monroe.
A Circle of Family
It was 1947. Oren Starnes had come back from the war (WWII) and had a desire to make a difference, no matter how small, to alleviate the hunger he had witnessed. Staying true to his farming roots in Union County, he and his new wife Helen started in business to produce eggs commercially. By 1960, they had established wholesale and retail egg routes in addition to selling eggs directly.
In the mid-60s, they decided to become an independent turkey grower raising around 27,000 turkeys annually. In the early ’70s, Oren’s son Sam decided that he wanted to become part of the family farm business. So in 1972, Oren officially incorporated the business as Circle S Ranch, based on the acronym of his and his son’s initials, SOS.
Now the second generation owner, Sam works just about a mile up the road from where he grew up on the family farm. Sam had finished high school in 1969 and enrolled in Wingate College, but because he had a low number in the draft lottery, he went ahead and enlisted. It was after his return from a tour in Vietnam that he joined the family’s turkey business.
“At that time, we were growing about 250,000 birds annually,” recalls Sam. “We had 600 to 700 acres, and we were also growing up to 700 head of beef cattle.”
“In those days,” Sam continues, “after spending their first eight weeks or so in heated brooder houses, the birds were moved outside in April onto a fenced-in range until they were ready to go to market.”
It worried Sam that outdoors the turkeys were vulnerable to wild animals and subject to diseases like cholera. It also meant that the business was seasonal, since North Carolina winters precluded the birds from staying outdoors from December through March. So, after a short brush-up at NC State to learn the latest in poultry production, Sam decided to build houses to bring the turkeys inside.
Circle S Ranch began construction on 18 new turkey houses in 1973, and soon it was transporting a load of turkeys to market every day.
Sam also knew that about 70 percent of the cost of producing a turkey is the cost of the feed. So to gain more control over feed costs, Circle S formed a co-op with a couple other farmers in the 1970s and purchased the Monroe feed mill that had been supplying their feed. By the mid-1990s, the co-op had grown the mill from 30,000 tons to over 300,000 tons a year.
Pretty soon they would be needing additional capacity. At the same time, Sam knew they would get a better freight rate if they could increase tonnage on their distribution.
“We were limited to 15 car trains and we needed 65 to 90 car trains to get a better freight rate,” explains Sam. “So in 1996, I bought a piece of land in Richburg, S.C., and began building a new feed mill. It opened in 1998 and we closed the Monroe co-op. Today we make over 500,000 tons of feed annually, and still supply feed for Simpson’s Eggs, one of the original co-op members.”
Oren Starnes passed away in 1987, but the family tradition continues as Sam’s two sons—Chad and Travis—now work alongside their father in the business. Both have been working on the farm since they were kids.
Chad, 39, oversees the feed mill and transportation operations, and is also involved in the administrative functions. Travis, 36, manages over 6,000 acres of corn, wheat and soybean crops, the company’s land clearing division, the Circle S Grain Elevator, and helps Chad manage the company-owned turkey farms. Sam, at 62, remains active in the business and is directly responsible for all grain purchasing.
“Having Travis and me here has afforded Dad the opportunity to grow the business and make decisions that he may not have been able to make if he didn’t have us here,” says Chad. “We understand the whole concept of Circle S and where we are going in the future.”
“I’ve got things now to where I can go on vacation and not worry about it,” Sam sums it up.
Growing Healthy Turkeys
The basic process of growing turkeys has changed very little over the last 40 years. Circle S buys the baby turkeys (called “poults”) from a variety of hatcheries, with most coming from eastern North Carolina and Virginia when they are only a day old.
The poults start out in a brood farm. Brooder houses average 20,000 to 25,000 square feet with about one square foot per bird. At about six weeks of age, the poults are transported by truck to a finishing farm, and over the next two weeks, the brooder house is cleaned, disinfected, and new bedding is delivered for the next flock. This eight-week cycle repeats itself about six or seven times a year.
Finishing farm houses also average about 25,000 square feet in size, but offer three to four square feet of space per bird. The birds stay there until they are ready for market at about 19 to 20 weeks of age. The 16-week finishing farm cycle also includes two weeks allocated to cleaning, allowing for three to four flocks every year.
Circle S sells to two primary meat processors—one in Harrisonburg, Va., and another in Newberry, S.C. Most of the birds they produce are male tom turkeys that are usually made into deli meats or other cooked and processed products. Smaller hens may be sold as whole birds and may wind up on your table at Thanksgiving.
Today, Circle S Ranch has 36 company-owned houses located within a short drive of their southern Union County base of operations. They also work with over 130 contract growers spread around York, Cherokee, Chester, Newberry, Lancaster, Chesterfield, and Kershaw counties in South Carolina, and Union, Anson, and Stanley counties in North Carolina.
Circle S Ranch and its network of growers produce over 350 million pounds of live turkeys every year. This represents about 8 million toms at 40-plus pounds each and about 1.5 million hens weighing less than 20 pounds each.
Some of the contract growers operate as brood farms, while others serve as finishing farms. Keeping the brood farms separate from the finishing farms helps prevent the spread of diseases that can endanger a flock. All of the Circle S company-owned houses are finishing houses.
Each contract grower furnishes the house and the labor to operate it, while Circle S Ranch furnishes the rest—the poults, the bedding, supplies, and the feed. Circle S also provides truck transportation from the brood farm to the finishing farm and from the finishing farm to market.
“We supply all the birds and we own them the entire time,” says Sam. “Our growers own their houses, but they use our procedures and grow the birds to our exact specifications.”
It also takes a large trucking operation to transport the poults and feed. Circle S Ranch operates about 60 tractor-trailer rigs, and many of the firm’s 142 employees are drivers and mechanics for the trucking fleet.
“We deliver over 400 loads of feed every five days, we deliver 33 to 38 loads of turkeys to the processing plants every night, and we have six trucks that move over 200,000 poults a week from the brood farm to the finishing farm,” Sam ticks off on his fingers.
A Self-Sustaining Operation
Circle S Ranch does more than just grow turkeys. They grow grain for the feed, mill the feed, make pine shavings for the turkey bedding, reprocess animal waste to formulate crop fertilizer, and recycle heating and cooling for turkey houses in a truly self-sustaining fashion.
The Circle S Shavings plant in Pageland, S.C., buys pine trees, debarks them (selling the bark for mulch), and makes pine shavings to use as bedding. Circle S and their growers use over 50 tractor-trailer loads of shavings each week.
The Circle S row crop operation farms close to 6,000 acres of wheat, corn and soybeans on land they own or lease in the area. They rotate their fields between the three crops, and the vast majority of that production is used as turkey feed.
“We sow wheat in the fall and harvest it in June,” explains Sam. “We plant soybeans right behind it that will come off in October or November. Then we’ll plant that same field back with corn the next March or April. When that corn comes off around September, we’ll sow wheat back into the corn stubble, and the cycle starts all over.”
“All our corn ends up at the feed mill to be made into turkey rations,” adds Travis. “About half of our wheat also goes into turkey feed, and the other half ends up as milling wheat for bread products. We sell our soybeans to ADM in Kershaw, S.C., and then we turn around and buy the processed soybean meal back to go into our feed mill.”
While the row crops help feed the flocks, the turkeys reciprocate by helping the crops grow. The litter from the houses, made up of shavings and associated turkey droppings, is recycled onto the fields as a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer.
“Except for some liquid nitrogen that we add to some of the corn and wheat, turkey litter is the only fertilizer we use,” says Travis. “We can send samples off, get an analysis, and then take a soil sample to know exactly how much litter we need to use to grow a crop. We are so much more accurate with it today than we’ve ever been.”
Science and New Technology
While the basic process of growing turkeys hasn’t changed much in 40 years, the science and technology behind it certainly has. In the early 1970s, a fully-grown tom turkey might have weighed in at about 20 pounds. But today, that same 20-week-old bird would likely tip the scales at over 40 pounds. In addition to improvements in housing and production, big changes have been made in feeding and in the genetic selection of the flocks.
Many older finishing houses have curtain sidewalls to promote natural airflow through the house, but newer houses are being built with closed sidewalls and ventilation systems to better control inside temperatures.
“In summer, we can pull the air in through a cooling cell with running water and we can drop the temperature 10 to 15 degrees from the outside,” explains Sam. “In winter, we can control temperature by using the poults’ own body heat and pulling in the outside air and circulating it with fans. The system will do its best to keep the temperature at whatever we set.”
“The technology that’s available now for a turkey house would blow your mind compared to 30 years ago,” adds Chad. “I’m tied electronically into my farms and there are alarms that will call me on my phone and let me know exactly what’s going wrong.”
The biggest changes, though, have been in the genetic selection of the flocks. Sam says that there are really only two main breeds of turkey left, and the various hatcheries will take their stock from the same grandparent stocks and then do their own selection to produce and hatch the eggs.
“We know the genetic stock each flock comes from and we keep track of that from the time they come in until we ship them out,” he says. “When I started, a bird that weighed 20 pounds at 20 weeks of age might have required four pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. Today, that same 20-week-old bird might weigh as much as 45 po
“We also have a nutritionist on retainer that formulates feeds for us,” he continues. “It’s a corn and soybean based diet. We feed them a certain number of calories each day, and they go through about eight different diets, starting out at about 30 percent protein and finishing up around 16 percent or 17 percent.”
The row crop operation has also seen big changes as GPS technology and equipment automation allows planting and fertilizer applications to be considerably more accurate than in the past. Rows are aligned perfectly with no overlap and no inefficient gaps.
While many things have changed over the years, one thing that hasn’t changed at Circle S Ranch is the concept of a family farm passed down from generation to generation. While some say the family farm is dying, at Circle S Ranch, the tradition is certainly still alive and well.
Photo By Fenix Fotography www.fenixfoto.com