'Green' business innovations are subject of CEO's Jan. 26 presentation

Jan. 23, 2012
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications
865.981.8207; karen.eldridge@maryvillecollege.edu

Jeffrey Willis, chairman and CEO of Pretty Products, LLC, will give a presentation titled “Creating Compelling Value in the Global Environment Through Sustainability and Innovation” at 9:30 a.m., Jan. 26, in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre of the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Headquartered on a 32-acre campus in LaGrange, Ga., Pretty Products is the leading manufacturer of quality-designed floor, cargo and trunk mats in the world. The company’s customers include Honda, Subaru, Toyota and Hyundai.

Willis bought the company, which was founded in 1929, in 2007. Pretty Products was struggling then, losing approximately $1 million every month. Backing technology and innovative strategies that are also environmentally friendly, the company has since cashed in on a patent-pending product called GreenMat™ that is 100 percent recyclable. The company also found a way to recycle its raw materials, greatly reducing scrap sent to landfills and reducing the amount of rubber the company had been purchasing.

Supporting sustainability in other forms, Pretty Products has a three-acre “Victory Garden” that is tended by executives and employees. Fresh vegetables from the garden are distributed for free to employees and needy families in the community. Exercise programs and a workout space are available to employees at no cost.

The company’s turnaround has been reported in The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Green Manufacturer and Harvard Business Review. This year, Willis will complete Harvard’s three-year Owners, Presidents, and Managers (OPM) advanced-degree program.

A member of Maryville College’s Board of Directors, Willis was invited to speak specifically to the College’s first-year students who are enrolled in FRS130: Perspectives on the Environment January Term course, but the presentation is free of charge and open to the public.

“We are trilled to have Jeff as our keynote speaker for the Freshman Seminar course this year,” said Dr. Roger Miller, coordinator of this year’s FRS130 courses and associate professor of physics. “As counter-intuitive as it may seem, here is A CEO of a regional company that went ‘green’ not due to some strongly held philosophical belief, but simply as a very pragmatic attempt to save his company.

“Along the way, this 'greening' of his company has produced an entity vastly more profitable and competitive today than just a few years ago when it was purchased by Jeff,” Miller continued. “The journey was far from smooth as monumental hurdles had to be overcome and interesting real world engineering problems had to be solved.

“I know the presentation will be educational and thought-provoking for students, faculty and staff, business leaders and others in our community.”

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.