Culp Co-Founder Rob Culp Dies

Rob Culp headshot
Rob Culp

Industry veteran Robert “Rob” G. Culp III died Dec. 8 at age 72, following complications related to leukemia. Born in Chicago to Esther and Robert Culp Jr., he spent much of his life in High Point, North Carolina, where in 1972 he helped his father found textile supplier Culp Inc.

Culp served as chief executive officer of the company from 1981 to 2007. Under his leadership, Culp Inc. grew from a small converter of fabrics to a publicly traded company that is one of the world’s largest textile manufacturers and marketers of mattress and upholstery fabrics for residential and commercial bedding, as well as furniture. It employs more than 1,400 people at operations in Canada, China, Haiti and the United States.

In October, Culp stepped away from day-to-day management of the business but remained as board chair, a post he held since 1990.

Culp also served on the boards of directors of Leggett & Platt Inc., Old Dominion Freight Line and Slumberland Inc.

Known for his philanthropy and public service, he was especially committed to his hometown and education, and he served on High Point’s downtown advisory board and as a trustee for High Point University.

In a news release, Frank Saxon, Culp vice chair and CEO, praised his longtime colleague’s commitment to customers, innovative thinking and inspiring leadership: “Rob had valued relationships and deep ties within our industry, and he was highly admired and respected both within our organization and throughout the markets we serve. … He will be greatly missed, especially for his sharp wit, generosity and kindness. Inspired by his example, everyone associated with Culp remains committed to Rob’s vision of excellence, and we will continue to honor his memory in the management of Culp in the years to come.”

The overflow crowd of more than 1,200 mourners at a funeral service Dec. 12 at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in High Point touched the hearts of family members. The diversity of the crowd was proof of the balanced life his father led, said Robert (Iv) Culp IV, who serves as Culp Inc. chief operating officer, as well as president of Culp Home Fashions, the mattress fabrics division. “It was a mix of family, friends, customers, colleagues and even some competitors. As a family and a business we’re heartbroken — we wish it weren’t this way — but we’re also very thankful for the special legacy he left us, and we are motivated to make him proud. That’s true in both our personal lives and our professional careers.”

Karl Glassman, president and CEO of Leggett & Platt Inc., who struggled with his emotions, described Culp as one of the kindest, most thoughtful people he has ever known. “Rob Culp was not only a member of the board of directors of Leggett & Platt Inc., Rob was a longtime friend to many of us. (He) will be greatly missed for his sense of humor, high level of ethics, passion for our industry, spot-on guidance and, mostly, love for his family and Culp Inc. Our heart goes out to Susan, Iv and the rest of the Culp family. Rob was a unique person who made the world a better place every day. It is impossible not to smile when thinking about Rob, no matter how sad we are about his passing.”

Adam Lava, co-owner of Chicago-based A. Lava & Son Co., with his cousin Steven Appelbaum, said they were very fortunate to have formed a business partnership with Culp Inc. a decade ago that now is the cut-and-sew operation CLASS International Holdings.

“We’re lucky to have been in (Rob Culp’s) orbit and to be a part of the Culp family,” Lava said. “It was impressive the way he built the company into a textile giant in the mattress industry and how he made the change from damask to knit fabrics, and also how he extended the platform outward from a manufacturing and design standpoint. He had a gift with customers — he knew how to make them feel valued, from mattress majors to small regional players. He was able to connect with people. There was a calmness about him and he kept everyone else calm; he just went out and made relationships work and did it the right way.

Mike Cottonaro, senior vice president of sales and marketing and a 34-year Culp Inc. veteran, cherished his close relationship with Culp, who was a “mentor, hero and a dear friend. People often say this, but in this case it’s true — there is a feeling of caring and family (at Culp) that inspires loyalty. It started with Mr. Culp and Rob and now Iv has taken up that torch.

“Rob was a humble man, uncomfortable in the limelight, who always passed credit on to others, and was always accessible. He had a magnetic personality that lit up a room. He really was an icon in our industry and the finest ambassador that the mattress or furniture industry has ever known. People were drawn to Rob and his quiet magic. And we all wanted to make him proud of us.”

According to company spokeswoman Teresa Huffman, Culp “embodied the spirit of this company and will be missed by our entire organization and the community at large where he was a tremendous benefactor to causes related to public education, children and enriching the lives of others. Our deepest condolences go to his wife, Susan; son, Iv; and the entire Culp family.”

Culp earned an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Survivors include his wife, Susan; three children; a sister; a brother; and seven grandchildren.

The family requests memorial gifts be made to either Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, 1225 Chestnut Drive, High Point, NC 27262; or to Open Door Ministries, 400 N. Centennial St., High Point, NC 27262.