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Educating Global Cotton Leaders

By Tommy Horton

I can remember when the International Cotton Institute opened its doors 20 years ago, and the optimism was high as the American Cotton Shippers Association ventured into a new arena for educating young cotton leaders. There have been different cotton schools through the years that attempted to give instruction to students on how to succeed in the volatile world of cotton trading. But this new school would be different.

First, it wouldn’t be a school that lasted a week or two that gave only an elementary view of what goes on in the cotton industry from planting until a shirt is sold in the store. No, this school would be much different. It would be open to international students as well as US students, and it would last eight weeks. During this time, students would gain an understanding in marketing, cotton production, trading and nearly every other aspect of the industry. It would be an exhaustive schedule with US cotton leaders serving as guest lecturers.

And why am I reminiscing about the beginnings of the International Cotton Institute? Mainly because I attended the Institute’s Class of 2014 graduation ceremony the other day, and it made me realize that a lot of time has gone by since ACSA started this experiment. In 20 years, close to 800 students have gone through the program. During the first 10 years, it was conducted at Rhodes College in Memphis, and for the past decade it has found a home in the Fogelman Executive Center at the University of Memphis.

You might ask why would ACSA go to the trouble of hosting such a school when many of US cotton’s major competitors send students to this same school? It’s all about business relationships. Anything that helps all parties can only enhance the relationship between US cotton and its many overseas customers.

It’s a testament to ACSA that the school’s reputation has grown each year, and now it is considered the most prestigious such institution in the world in terms of education on cotton production and marketing. Hats off to Bill May (ACSA president), Bill Griffin (school program director) and Lauren Shelley (administrative director). These three persons are supported by an army of mentors and volunteers who make the eight-week experience run smoothly without any hitches.

I have had the good fortune to interview many students during the past 15 years, and it always amazes me when I meet sons and daughters of US industry leaders each year. It is reassuring when I see the younger generation staying in the cotton industry just like their parents did.

No matter how the global cotton landscape may change in the future, the world’s cotton leaders will continue to support this school because they know it’s a good investment. That’s something that should make everyone in the US cotton industry very proud.