I have had the opportunity to work for a major cotton merchant – Dunavant Cotton Company – and now I work independently as Jabbour Cotton Company. It wasn’t by choice.
After being “laid off” from Dunavant, I needed to find a job. Given the condition of the merchandising sector in 2008, this was not easy. Very few merchants were hiring, and the ones who were wanted me to relocate. I was too firmly planted in Memphis to consider moving. I didn’t have a choice; I had to start my own cotton company. I went and visited with some old friends of mine who are small, independent cottonmerchants downtown.
I stood at the corner of Front Street and Union Avenue, and all I saw were vacant old cotton company buildings – lifeless. It was a big change from what “cotton row” was 60 years ago. Front Street was not only the major hub for cotton trading in the Mid-South, but also the world. I walked into the Memphis Cotton Exchange building and up the stairs to the mezzanine level. After visiting with friends, I decided to take an office in this historic building, and I’ve been here for almost three years.
What’s changed? Working at Dunavant, I had a support staff of hundreds from around the world. Here in my new office, I have the support of two people – Danny Lyons of Lyons Cotton Company and Calvin Turley of Turley Cotton Company. We sit in one large room and have separate companies but occasionally collaborate on business. There is no privacy; we hear each other’s conversations, so there are no secrets until we leave the office.
At Dunavant, I had the privilege of receiving a paycheck every two weeks without fail, whereas now I have to provide a service in order to create a paycheck. At Dunavant, I received calls late at night from overseas buyers to purchase cotton so I didn’t get much sleep. Now at night I worry about what I will do tomorrow, then I wake up worrying about what I’m going to do today. The anxiety never ends because you have no one to depend on but yourself.
One thing is for certain. No two years are alike. I have never experienced demand as brisk as last year, where often you could make a sale every night. Now 10 months later, demand has changed dramatically. I find it hard to believe that demand could be dormant for so long. I’m sure I’ll wake up one morning, and demand will be back at my doorstep. The important thing for me is to stay occupied.
In our family, I am in charge of after-school carpool, homework and dinner. When both husband and wife work, it’s a juggling act, especially with kids. I get my “marching orders” for the week every Monday morning. I feel a little embarrassed being the only male in the carpool line, but the scenery is pleasant, and I’ve become friends with a lot of moms. Besides trying to merchandise cotton, the other difficult part of the day is deciding what to cook for dinner.
I try to prepare fresh meals and avoid frozen. By Thursday, I’m out of ideas. I’m happy to report that everyone is healthy. However, there is never a lack of suggestions or complaints. When you get laid off from your job and your world gets turned upside down, you do whatever it takes to make the family unit succeed. I enjoy the time I get to spend with my kids – quite a difference from my childhood as my father worked long hours. At Dunavant we put in long hours. At Jabbour Cotton, when the work is done, I take off. Any free time is usually spent with my family.
I hope I was able to shed some light on the differences in working for a large company and working for yourself. Like a friend of mine once said when asked “What’s it like working for yourself?” His reply was, “You sleep like a hunted animal!”
Lastly, I want to thank my wife Margaret forre-entering the job market and getting herprevious job back. If she’s at work, she’s not spending money!
– Kenny Jabbour, Memphis, Tenn.