Greg Sigmon – Unifi Inc.
Sustainability’s the economic engine for Unifi Inc., one of the world’s leading innovators in recycled and synthetic yarns and manufacturer of REPREVE® fiber, which is made from post-consumer plastic bottles. Among other challenges in today’s business environment, this North Carolina-headquartered company was forced to address unfair competition from overseas.
So says Greg Sigmon, who plunged into that front upon becoming UNIFI’s assistant general counsel in September 2019.
One year earlier, UNIFI and South Carolina-based Nan Ya Plastics Corp. jointly petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce to impose anti-dumping and countervailing duties against China and India, respectively. After nine months of hearings, the U.S. International Trade Commission unanimously voted in favor of UNIFI and Nan Ya, supporting domestic manufacturers. Encouraged by this progress and dedicated to defending American industry, plaintiffs proceeded with another petition against Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, again garnering a unanimously favorable response, only more expeditiously.
“We’d seen the volume of import competition rising in recent years,” says Sigmon, who since has ascended to executive officer, general counsel and corporate secretary. “We knew we were being unfairly placed out of the market by Asian competitors, which is why we initiated the first action. When we saw similar unfair practices by other countries, I had no hesitation supporting the second petition.”
UNIFI’s a stronger company, he goes on to say, and better able to meet a rising demand for sustainable products. There’s a burgeoning market for REPREVE, most of which is sold to apparel, home furnishings, automotive and other industries, with key brand and retail partners including heavyweights like Nike, Polartec, Walmart and Target.
There’s also no shortage of plastic bottle inputs. UNIFI purchases billions of those bottles from recycling collectors and processes them into clean, clear flake at facilities in Reidsville, North Carolina, and elsewhere. At last count, UNIFI has transformed over 35 billion bottles into new products, a point of pride for this millennial executive.
Best of both worlds
“When I first came here, I observed an interesting dynamic,” Sigmon tells Vanguard in May from his Greensboro office. “There’s a combination of a half-century of textile expertise and youthful passion for sustainability and innovation. UNIFI has been in operation since 1971, but aspects of our culture have the energy of a startup.”
More so now with one-third of the nine-member board of directors having changed under Sigmon’s watch. Like sustainability, he says diversity is a socially responsible and sound business practice. He’s proud to have led the on-boarding of three new directors, two of whom are women.
“The demand for accomplished and diverse directors has increased, and as a result of our thoughtful succession planning, we’re right at the top of our peer group from a diversity and corporate governance standpoint,” Sigmon says. “I’m also proud that we’ve avoided the exorbitant costs of using external recruiting services.”
Instead, Sigmon partnered UNIFI with his alma mater, the University of North Carolina School of Law, where the school’s cost-free Director Diversity Initiative has been working since 2006 to diversify corporate boards. Sigmon helped facilitate an orderly transition during his first director succession, welcoming Emma Battle, a 30-year marketing veteran, to UNIFI.
Subsequently, Rhonda Ramlo, a seasoned Clorox Co. leader and Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream executive, joined the board. Last fall, Sigmon helped orchestrate the board’s addition of Frank Blake, the non-executive board chairman of Delta Air Lines Inc. and former chief executive of The Home Depot, Inc.
A bottom-line focus
Then there’s been Sigmon’s reduction of outside corporate legal spend by over 75 percent, which has had a significant bottom line impact on the company. In 2021, he closed the acquisition of two North Carolina assets without any external spend: One was an air-jet texturing business and the other a former nylon competitor to UNIFI.
It’s all part of his responsibilities as the youngest executive at UNIFI. Sigmon, 33, sees himself shouldering several responsibilities: managing and developing the legal department; ensuring securities compliance; overseeing corporate governance, reporting to the board of directors; supporting the international commercial teams through transactions and mergers; and collaborating with other corporate stakeholders on key initiatives like executive compensation, investor relations and personnel matters. In July 2022 he was handed another responsibility when he was named an executive officer.
“The best part of the job is that there’s no business development,” Sigmon says, half-jokingly. “I only focus on one client, and it has a reliable and sustainable business model that I’m passionate about. My responsibility is to move it forward in the best interests of our customers, employees and shareholders.”
He doesn’t deny he feels fortunate. But it took some doing for Sigmon to bypass an hourly-billable career.
He first interned at BB&T Corporation in Raleigh, North Carolina, and followed that with four months as an honors program extern with the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C. There he learned a relevant regulatory framework working alongside governmental officials, and BB&T brought Sigmon back in 2015 as an assistant vice president and in-house counsel. A few months later, he was selected as the first attorney to participate in the company’s renowned leadership development program. By age 28, he was a vice president in the legal department.
When BB&T and SunTrust Banks, Inc. merged in late 2019 to form Truist Financial Corp., there was a spot for Sigmon at the newly formed Charlotte headquarters. But UNIFI reached out with the offer for him to stay local and focus on promoting sustainability.
“I was ready to advance my career to a more senior leadership role, working directly with UNIFI’s sophisticated, environmentally conscious board, chief executive and leadership team,” he says.
It’s been a fairly rapid progression, and he relishes that his role impacts many global stakeholders.
“I’ve enjoyed taking action to advocate for the American worker and promote fairness in the domestic market,” Sigmon says. “It’s been a privilege to work with our experienced, diverse, and well-qualified board of directors. But most of all, I appreciate that in a volatile environment our one constant has been an increasing demand for sustainable products, and we’re providing industry-leading solutions.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer IV 2023 Edition here.
Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!
Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing