A technical college education has been the key ingredient to success for Randy Blackston, vice president of operations at Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, LLC. In 1988, Blackston started on the university transfer track studying Business Management until he discovered the industrial training program at Tri-County Technical College.
When Randy Blackston toured the industrial technology department at Tri-County Technical College (Tri-County) and saw its mechanical equipment, he realized that he wanted to challenge himself by studying gear ratios, motion time, production control and quality analysis. Blackston promptly transitioned to the Engineering and Industrial Technology Division, and never scored less than an “A” before graduating as an honor student with a 4.0 GPA.
“Tri-County’s Industrial Technology Department was excellent. It provided the basic math and engineering background to go straight to work or to continue my education, which is the avenue I chose,” Blackston said.
“I enjoyed the connection I had with faculty and the interest they had in me,” he added. “When you engage like that with students, you expedite the learning process at a level much greater than can occur in the classroom lectures.”
After receiving his degree in Industrial Technology in 1990, Blackston enrolled at Clemson University to continue his education in textile manufacturing with an area of concentration in Industrial Engineering. “It was an easy transition,” he said. “When I entered Clemson, I felt like I was a semester ahead. The Industrial Technology classes gave me a good head start.”
While attending Clemson by day, Blackston pursued a second degree in Quality Assurance at the technical college by night. During a single semester, Blackston was enrolled in a total of 28 credit hours while maintaining a 30-hour work week. He worked full-time, second-shift jobs through 80 percent of the five years he went to college. “I had a goal,” said Blackston, and he stuck to it.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Blackston began working at the Glen Raven (Sunbrella®) manufacturing facility in Anderson as a management trainee and project engineer.
From May 1992 to June 1994, Blackston served as project manager for the one-million-square-foot facility on Liberty Highway. He was immersed in the new project for two years, calculating every item needed for the facility based on growth calculations. Blackston now calls this his most significant achievement and credits much of the project’s success to his training at Tri-County. “Tri-County’s hands-on approach gave me the foundation I needed to tackle complicated problems. Through the math and work measurement, I had the building blocks to do calculations and be a part of group discussions,” he said.
As Blackston continued to progress at Glen Raven, his relationship with Tri-County evolved also. He became an instructor at the college in his free time, serving as an adjunct from 1995 to 2003. He also developed the first web-based quality classes for the college’s Quality Assurance program. “I taught real-world exercises by taking actual data and presenting it to the class. Students appreciated this. Teaching made me a better manager. I would do it again tomorrow if time allowed,” he said.
Today, Blackston is vice president of operations at Glen Raven (Sunbrella®) in Anderson. He is directly responsible for the operations of four manufacturing plants with 1,200 associates and oversees global manufacturing of the Sunbrella® branded products. As part of this role, Blackston is responsible for global best practices and manages global capital projects. He also directs Glen Raven’s sustainability program and led a corporate-wide initiative which resulted in achieving landfill-free status in all operations in North America, France and China.
In 2016, Blackston received Tri- County’s Distinguished Alumni Award at the college’s spring commencement. Blackston attributed much of his success to his time at Tri-County. “Glen Raven has given me wonderful opportunities,” he said. “Years ago, I joined an amazing company, and I’m thankful I could use my education [at Tri-County] to work for the greatest company in the world.”
Glen Raven Custom Fabrics manufactures a host of fabrics for a variety of markets. Its flagship brand, Sunbrella®, provides customers with a beautiful, durable fabric that has revolutionized the shade, marine and furniture markets.
Custom Fabrics spans the globe, but is anchored in the United States. In an era where most textile manufacturing has gone overseas, the majority of Glen Raven’s fabrics are produced in the United States. Its main manufacturing facility is located in Anderson, South Carolina with over 1 million square feet under one roof. In Anderson, yarn is spun and fabrics woven, finished, and sent through extensive quality control. Having this entire process in one facility ensures the quality that industry leaders and consumers associate with the Sunbrella brand.