Steve Layton, President of Polartec

Milliken & Company has named Clemson MBA alum Steve Layton president of Polartec.
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Steve Layton is perhaps one of the best examples of what the Clemson MBA program can help someone accomplish, on a couple of different levels. Layton was recently named the new president of Polartec, a provider of premium functional fabrics used across a multitude of markets.

“The company is over 100 years old,” Layton says. “We invented the modern-day fleece back in the ‘80s, which changed the landscape of outdoor apparel. We produce high end, performance-driven fabrics that are primarily used for outdoor, athletic, and military apparel.

The company was acquired by Milliken back in June, and Layton, who’d been with Milliken since 2012, rising from Strategy Analyst to Vice-President of Sales & Marketing for another Milliken-owned brand, Westex By Milliken, was named President of Polartec shortly after the acquisition.

But none of that likely would have happened if Layton hadn’t sought a new path for his career and decided to earn his MBA from Clemson University. Layton began the program in 2009 and earned his degree in 2011.

“My background prior to that was in finance,” Layton says. “But I knew that I wanted some type of change, so while I was doing that, I earned my MBA. And shortly after that, I went to Milliken because it enabled a career change into strategy, where I was able to leverage my financial acumen but also utilize the general experience I got working towards my MBA. It was a well-rounded job opportunity, and from there I could decide if I wanted to go back into finance, or if I wanted to spread into a different function.”

Layton worked at Milliken as a Strategy Analyst and was soon promoted as the strategy director for Milliken’s textiles division before taking on business leadership roles within the division.

“We had an opportunity to acquire Westex in 2014,” he says. “I was involved with the strategy work leading up to that acquisition, and was asked to lead the integration. That was a tremendous experience because I was able to work with many different functions within Milliken and Westex. I developed great relationships and learned a lot in a short amount of time, both from a leadership and functional standpoint. Those experiences really opened up opportunities for me to take on bigger leadership roles. By 2017, I was promoted to lead Westex By Milliken after the departure of the previous VP.”

By the time Milliken acquired Polartec, Layton was an executive with years of both integration and business leadership experience, a natural fit to head the Polartec® brand. But Layton’s move through the Milliken ranks after leaving GE in 2012 wasn’t his only post-MBA career change.

For the past six years, Layton has been an adjunct professor in Clemson’s MBA program.

“I usually teach strategic management in the summer,” Layton says. “It’s a win-win for me because I love teaching and get to meet some great people. I think that the students enjoy having someone with business leadership experience who can provide real life examples of what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Beyond that, we’ve hired several of the students I’ve had over the years.”

Layton keeps an eye on his MBA program students, looking for good people to recommend bringing into the Milliken fold. It’s difficult to imagine a more direct potential benefit of becoming part of the program.

Layton sees his recruitment as an extension of the MBA program’s biggest fringe benefit.

“Networking is one of the biggest things students should be taking away from an MBA experience,” Layton says. “One of the reasons I still stay involved is that it’s a great way to find great talent. It’s always been fun to have an impact in helping deserving people in their career, and to me, every interaction I have with someone is an unofficial interview. You’re proving yourself not just in understanding the concepts but applying them.”

Layton says that you can learn more about people in a classroom setting than through their resume.

“It’s in how you work with people,” he says. “I’m big on a teamwork element, so if people are working well in groups as well as grasping the concepts, that’s always something I’m observing. Sometimes it starts out as internships; in fact, I think all of my recent interns in the past have been Clemson MBA students, and a handful have become full-time employees. When you look at a resume or even do a full interview, you’re never going to get a sense of how that person actually works day-in and day-out. I always try to find talented, hard-working, team players. And this helps us do that in a big way.”