Robert G. Culp, III, the founder and Chairman of Culp, Inc. died on December 8th due to complications related to leukemia. Back in 1972 Rob joined his father in creating what is now one of the largest furniture and bedding textile companies in the world employing over 1,400 employees. His success in business is obvious but that’s only part of his story.
Rob was a proud graduate and supporter of the University of North Carolina. He was a member of the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, was a trustee of High Point University that is now building the Culp Planetarium, and was key in driving improvements to rebuild downtown among other projects in his community.
I was first introduced to Culp when I started working at Serta, Inc. and was buying tick for the Sam’s account over 22 years ago. Mike Cottonaro was my Culp representative and has since become a close friend. He introduced me to Rob at an industry event and I have to admit being a little nervous given all that I had heard about him. It took all of five minutes to understand that everything people had told me about this guy was spot on. I was lucky enough to spend time with Rob on several occasions over the years and I got to know him fairly well so I am confident in saying the following. He was a generous man that deflected every compliment I tried to give him, he believed in approaching business with integrity but with a very aggressive posture, and was willing to invest in his customers but asked to be treated fairly and if that wasn’t going to happen, he was happy to walk away. Whenever I was with Rob he showed a genuine interest in me and my business, always asked about my family and was a great listener when it came to hearing the answers. Rob was a true leader in our industry that has earned “legendary status” in my book because he lived that kind of life. Have you ever met someone that just had this “thing” about them; call it a presence. He was that kind of person and I’m so glad I knew him.
The good news in all of this is that Rob built an organization that will prosper well into the future. When I was first exposed to ticking suppliers, there were three big companies; Culp, Blumenthal, and Burlington. Culp saw the writing on the wall and made some very good strategic decisions that allowed them to survive and thrive in some very tough times and they outlasted their main competition. So what does the future look like? Frank Saxon has been the CEO of Culp since 2007 and is a great guy, and Rob’s son IV is now the Chief Operating Officer and President. IV has become a friend to me over the year’s and is without a doubt his father’s son. I’m grateful to know IV and to still be connected to Mike Cottanaro, Larry and Chadd Coltrain, Chuck Fowler, their awesome design team and many others. You know that you have built something special when you fill your company with the kind of people that will make it a huge success well after you’re gone.
My prayers go out to Susan and his family today as they grieve their loss, but I know there will be a lot of celebration around Rob’s life and his legacy.
Rob…thank you for always making me feel more important than I was, and for being the kind of person and businessman that I hope to be. You will be missed.