Kontoor Brands CEO Scott Baxter discusses company’s history, future

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Scott Baxter is a comfortable guy.

Perhaps that’s because he’s always wearing comfortable clothes.

“I still own a suit,” he told me recently. “But I haven’t had it on in, I think, over a year.”

Baxter is the CEO and president of Kontoor Brands. It’s the new parent company of Wrangler and Lee Jeans. And wearing denim the company designs, makes and distributes is an important part of the company culture.

The name “Kontoor” is a creative variation of the word “contour,” which means to mold into a specific shape or, at least in this company’s view, the perfect fit.

The VF Corporation spun off its jeanswear brands when it relocated to Denver earlier this year.

Kontour Brands has more than 17,000 employees worldwide and 2,000 in North Carolina.

The Wrangler Brand is headquartered in Greensboro and has been for more than 70 years. As part of this new company, Lee moved its headquarters from Kansas City to Greensboro to form this new company.

“So you’ve got the history,” said Baxter, when talking about the company’s connection to Greensboro. “And you’ve also got a community that rallies around our company. We’re very embedded in the community and most of our executives do something in the community.”

The size of the Kontoor Brands' local presence is big: about 600 employees in the corporate headquarters on North Elm Street; about 200 employees in a Service Support Center on South Elm Street; about 150 in design, innovation, product development and merchandising in the renovated Revolution Mill complex, and about 10 employees at its retail “studio store” at the corner of Elm and Washington streets downtown.

360 people work at the Kontoor Brands distribution center in Davie County.

But much of the company exists outside Greensboro. Most of its products are made overseas in places like Mexico. Baxter takes a “never say never” approach about the possibility of more manufacturing moving back to the United States.

“I go back to technology. If we develop the technology that could help us do that, then that would be an advantage,” he said. But he added with so much company manufacturing infrastructure currently in place overseas, it would be tough, not to mention costly, to move everything back.

Then there’s the ever-changing business of retail.

“We have positioned our portfolio to be with the strongest retailers who have both that physical brick and mortar (store) and that e-commerce component,” he said. In other words, you can buy Lee and Wrangler items both online and in stores.

But the key to the company’s future, Baxter says, is investing in two things: people and innovation.

That innovation includes Lee’s new “Shape Illusions” line. It will soon be available in more than 2,500 Walmart stores. Cutting edge technology has helped Lee develop this line which the company says will help flatter your figure.

But despite all this, Baxter has no plans to take the company away from its roots.

“I am 100 percent committed as the CEO to stay in Greensboro,” he said.

For more information on Kontoor Brands, click here.

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