Julian Saul’s prosperous career in the carpet industry can be attributed to an unlikely source: an aversion to cotton.

After graduating from Georgia Tech in 1963, Saul returned home to Dalton to work for his father’s textile business, Queen Tufting (later Queen Carpet Co.), which eventually became a part of Dalton-based Shaw Industries. But the haze of cotton lint and dust in the mills caused Saul’s allergies to flare up. So he approached his father about the company manufacturing carpet with synthetic materials. In 1969, Queen entered the carpet business.

Now, 37 years later, Saul, president of Dalton-based Shaw Industries and the No. 2 executive behind CEO Robert “Bob” Shaw, says he will retire, effective July 14. He will remain with the company as a consultant.

“It’s a difficult decision,” said Saul, who will turn 66 this month. “I’ve been in the rug and carpet business all of my life. The day I got out of college I started working that following Monday. I’ve never had another job in my life.”

The Dalton High School graduate said he thought about retiring during “the last year or so.” He said he wants to devote more time to developing a 475-home subdivision at Barnsley Gardens, a resort and golf course in Adairsville of which he’s a part owner. Residential construction could begin within the next year, Saul said.

“That was a big part of it, too,” he said.

Saul said he “wouldn’t venture to guess” who would replace him as Shaw Industries president, but said the company has several strong candidates.

“At Shaw we’ve got a lot of what I consider young, good managers and it’s time to let them have a chance,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to have an office here in Dalton. If they have any projects or anything they need me to do, I’ll do it.”

Saul’s retirement didn’t come as a major shock to Randy Patton, a history professor at Kennesaw State University who wrote a book detailing Shaw Industries’ history.

“He’s at that age where people normally retire, but Bob (Shaw, who is several years older) has not retired,” Patton said with a laugh. “I guess the specific timing of it was a little bit of a surprise.”

Patton’s two books on the carpet industry are “Shaw Industries: A History” and “Carpet Capital: The Rise of a New South Industry.” He said Julian Saul, along with his father, the late Harry Saul, “played a tremendous role” in the carpet industry and community.

“Bob (Shaw) likes to tell the story about how when Harry Saul was running a department store he would give away Boy Scout badges and things when the kids couldn’t pay for them,” Patton said.

Werner Braun, president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute, said Julian Saul is “a giant in this industry, a leader who will walk away knowing that he has reached the summit of business success.”

“The industry is a better place by having Julian Saul as one of its architects, and while he will be sadly missed, he should take great comfort in knowing that his leadership and devoutness — not only to Shaw Industries, but to the entire industry — has left a gap with his retirement that will be impossible to fill,” Braun said.

Despite the accolades, Saul was quick to credit other industry contributors such as Catherine Evans Whitener and V.D. Parrott Sr., the former head of Dalton Utilities.

“All of us manufacturers were lucky that we had Mrs. Whitener that invented the process, and secondly we had pioneers that really opened the doors for us,” Saul said. “People like George Hanson, Mose Painter and Gene Barwick. They had the foresight. Without them, Dalton would still be a chenille town. We’d still be probably making throws and bedspreads.”

Saul came to Shaw Industries after selling Queen Carpet Co. to Shaw in a $470 million deal in August 1998. Berkshire Hathaway, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, bought Shaw Industries in 2001. Today, Shaw Industries is the world’s largest broadloom carpet manufacturer.

The history between the Shaw and Saul families can be traced to the infancy of the carpet industry.

In the 1950s, Bob Shaw developed a friendship with Harry and Julian Saul when the Sauls’ Queen Chenilles shared a building with Star Dye Co., owned by Bob Shaw’s father, Clarence Shaw. Star Dye Co. dyed most of Queen’s rugs, robes and spreads in the 1950s. Star Dye Co. later became Shaw Industries.

Shaw Industries and Queen Carpet Co. were neck and neck in the competitive carpet industry. During the 1990s, Queen Carpet Co. experienced rapid growth by purchasing several carpet manufacturers including Patcraft Mills (1990), Cumberland Mills (1992) and Tuftex Industries (1994), the largest carpet mill on the West Coast. Queen grew to the fourth largest carpet manufacturer in the country.

Bob Shaw initially approached Julian Saul about merging the companies in 1995. But at the time, Shaw Industries was developing a plan to enter the retail carpet market. Saul was skeptical of the move, but told Shaw to keep the idea in mind. Shaw’s retail venture didn’t work out.

Interest in the merger warmed again in 1998. At that time, Queen was the largest privately-held carpet company. Both sides said the merger went smoothly because of the familiarity between the Saul and Shaw families.

“Bob said it’s a lot easier to make a deal like that when you can have a handshake agreement between people who have known each other for so many years,” Patton said. “It was also just a very logical business move for the both of them.”

Patton wrote in his book about Shaw Industries that the merger was a “strategic alliance between two of the founding families of Dalton’s tufted textile industry.”

Saul had gained a reputation for introducing creative products and also brought the experience of running a large carpet manufacturing company, Patton said.

“He brought a fresh perspective from outside,” Patton said. “If you looked at Shaw’s top management prior to that, the ones that had the top jobs had been there for a while. I’m sure that it helps to have somebody with a little bit of a fresh perspective to come from the outside.”

Bob Shaw lauded the Saul family’s contributions to the industry.

“Our industry has benefited greatly through the years from all that the Saul family has contributed,” Shaw said. “Julian has been a tremendous part of our success here at Shaw since joining forces with us in 1998. He is a true friend to the industry and to the greater community of Northwest Georgia.”

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