One of Mississippi’s largest privately held businesses is Staplcotn located in Greenwood, which was founded in 1921 as a cooperative. The organization is the oldest and one of the largest cotton marketing cooperatives in the United States and serves over 7,300 members from 11 states. Staplcotn markets between 2.5 million to three million bales of Memphis/Eastern upland cotton to textile customers around the world each year and annually supplies over one quarter of the cotton consumed by the U.S. textile industry. With almost $1 billion in annual sales, the organization continues to play a very important role for farmers and the agricultural industry, as well.
I recently interviewed David Camp, vice president of sales operations for Staplcotn to learn more about the business and his views on leadership. Camp grew up in Decatur, Ala., and from an early age was involved in the world of cotton. In high school, he spent many long hours scouting cotton fields to determine the amount and kinds of insects in a field so the cotton farmers would know what needed to be done to minimize yield loss to insects. He noted, “That was a hot and tiring job, but I learned a lot about the business in those years.” Camp went on to be a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Birmingham Southern College and earn his master’s degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University. Upon graduation from Purdue, Camp joined Staplcotn as an economic and policy analyst. The company continued to promote and add responsibilities to Camp, and in 2003, he assumed his current role as vice president of sales operations. Camp said, “Sales operations handles all of our inventory management, as well as our domestic and export logistics and documentation.”
Camp is an ongoing student of leadership and noted, “I have had various leadership training opportunities, but the most extensive was a week-long intensive training session with the Center for Creative Leadership. This was focused around a 360-degree personal evaluation to show areas of both personal strength and weaknesses to help executives grow into better leaders.” He also shared that his father taught him early on the phrase “Organize — Deputize — Supervise.” Even at a young age, those words struck him as something insightful. To this day, he has those words on a sign in his house. For me that was the first time I had really considered the word “deputize” in a leadership context; however, I really like it. The following definition of deputize I found particularly appropriate in a leadership environment – “to assign a duty, responsibility or obligation to act.” Great leaders certainly know how to effectively delegate responsibility and empower their team members.
As with any industry, there are constant challenges. Camp noted that in his business, “Maintaining operational efficiency while dealing with market volatility and maintaining customer service is the challenge that we manage every day.” However, he aptly observed that having a team that understands those challenges and is prepared to meet them is the key.” Camp also said that he believes leaders need a strong foundation of knowledge of their subject matter and the energy to pursue their goals to be successful. Camp is not only active in his business, but also in his industry serving as a director of the National Cotton Council Board, in his state as a member of the Mississippi World Trade Center Board and in his community as an active member with the Greenwood Leflore County Chamber of Commerce.
The agricultural economy continues to play an important role in this state, and Staplcotn is a great example of a Mississippi-based company that is having a worldwide impact as they ship product to over 20 countries. It is exciting to learn more about these kinds of companies and leaders like David Camp who serve as the backbone of our state’s economy.
Up Close With David Camp
Title: Vice president of sales operations, Staplcotn
Favorite Books: I’m currently reading Leading With Honor by Lee Ellis. This recounts his experiences in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp and then takes the leadership principles he learned from his fellow captives and applies them to the business world. I also enjoy the fictional works of Cormac McCarthy, John Updike and Tom Wolfe.
First Job: My first job was working as a cotton scout.
Proudest Moment as a Leader: Having homeowners express how grateful they are that we were able to take a miserable experience and have a positive outcome.