Chuck Horne had options, plenty of options, when the time arrived to apply for college in the late 1960s. Horne, however, needed only one and submitted his lone application to N.C. State University.
“I remember my high school guidance counselor telling me I can do better than that, which really just made me mad,” Horne recalls. “I was a really good math and science student, and he was telling me I should be applying to M.I.T. and places like that. My response was ’That’s not what I want to do, I want to go to the College of Textiles [at N.C. State].’”
So in 1969, Horne left Wadesboro, N.C., for Raleigh. Thirty years later, Wesley Horne followed in his father’s footsteps — applying only to N.C. State and studying in the recently named Wilson College of Textiles.
“My blood is [Wolfpack] red,” Wesley Horne said.
He has not only his father to thank for that upbringing, but also his grandfather, Ken Horne, who attended N.C. State’s textiles college and graduated in 1935. In 1946, the eldest Horne and Fred Wood partnered to create Hornwood Warp Knitting Corp. Today, the company, located in Lilesville, N.C., is simply known as Hornwood Inc. and is run by Chuck (chief executive officer) and Wesley (president).
Chuck is the bridge between the three Horne generations, thus has seen the company grow from its young beginnings to becoming a considerable player in the textiles industry.
Chuck recalls his father working at Hornwood six days a week, taking only Sunday off to attend church and play golf. The elder Horne spoke of the plant just enough to pique his high school son’s interest in the business and, perhaps, N.C. State.
By the time Chuck arrived on campus, the textiles college offered more than the weaving and designing degree his father earned.
“You had two choices — textile technology and textile chemistry,” Chuck Horne said. “And my standard joke is that all the smart guys were in textile chemistry, so I took textile technology.
“In that time period, the focus was on teaching you how to make fiber and how to make fabric. There was no fashion component at all and very little in terms of marketing and apparel production or anything like that. It was really focused on making fabric and fiber.”
Immediately following graduation, Chuck joined Hornwood, working his way from a planning position to various sales titles and, later, becoming company president when his father retired in 1983.
For Wesley, Hornwood was practically a part of everyday life.
“Growing up close to our mill, this was something I got to experience at a young age,” Wesley said. “I would come down here and walk through the plant, come to work with Dad occasionally. I always found it really fascinating, the whole process. Many of the people who work here are like family to me because I grew up with them and their children. So it’s just been something very close to my heart and I was exposed to it at a very young age.”
So was N.C. State, which continued to broaden the College of Textiles. Ken, who passed away in 1997 and for whom the Kenneth W. Horne Sr. Scholarship is named, might not even recognize the college today.
“The diversity of the curriculum, there was really an unlimited amount of opportunity, whether it be textile engineering or chemistry or business management or fashion and design” said Wesley, speaking of his own college years. “I chose a degree that was somewhat of a hybrid between a general textile degree and a business degree with the apparel management background.”
Unlike his father, Wesley did not jump straight from college into the family business. Instead, the former N.C. State golf walk-on turned professional and played mostly at the lower levels in Europe and the U.S.
After a few years, the looming likelihood of never reaching the PGA Tour, coupled with a significant opening at Hornwood, led Wesley to join the corporate fold.
With Chuck’s wisdom and Wesley’s foresight, the father and son are positioning Hornwood for the future.
“I’ve seen it all,” said Chuck, a former president of the N.C. Textile Foundation, “and I’ll be the first to admit that when all of the business, particularly the apparel business, went to Asia in the early 2000s, I said ‘Well that’s gone, we’ll never see it again.’ And I was dead wrong. As a result of the whole reshoring conversation and apparel business coming back from Asia, the outlook is very bright.
“The good news is the business is coming back, the bad news is that it’s with very tight margins. So if you’re on the manufacturing side of the business, it really makes you focus on having the best efficiency and the lowest costs you can have.”
Wesley said that, as a result of recent reshoring, the company is reinvesting in its roots.
“We’ve been in business for 73 years and have had a lot of success over the years and the opportunity exists to go from a really nice family-sized business to being one of the big players in the U.S. textiles market,” he said. “We’ve seen enough sustained action over the last couple of years that we think it’s going to stay around … which meant we’ll have to invest in new equipment and really start to hire some new people.”
The Hornes are also helping ensure the future through the scholarship in Horne Sr.’s name, along with annually funding the Textile Pioneer Scholars Program, which offers need-based scholarships. The program offers professional development and employment opportunities.
“The best thing about [the Kenneth W. Horne Sr. Scholarship] is meeting the students who receive it,” said Chuck of the offering that is divided among multiple students. “And see how excited they are to get the opportunity to go the College of Textiles. It’s just really gratifying.
“The Pioneer Scholarship is a recent commitment we’re very excited about supporting. We believe the Pioneer Scholarship will give many North Carolinians from rural areas the opportunity to attended the Wilson College of Textiles and ultimately thrive in the textile industry with fruitful careers.”
By paying it forward, especially at NC State and within their community, the Hornes are also making an investment back into Hornwood.
“We’ve had the privilege of hiring numerous NC State, UNC system, and NC Community College graduates over the years. This will remain our strategy going forward, as we have found these graduates are some of the most prepared we have joining our team at Hornwood,” Wesley said. ‘We focus on graduates from the local area, but hire graduates from all over North Carolina and the rest of the USA that share Hornwood’s commitment to excellence, innovation, and superior customer service.”
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Written by Stuart Hall