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Mensch of Malden Mills

Mensch of Malden Mills Article from CBS News (Modified)

Background: In the winter of 1995, a massive fire broke out at Malden Mills, a textile company in Lawrence, MA. Though no one was killed, Malden Mills was one of the largest employers in the community. At a time when many people were already struggling financially, hundreds of people lost their jobs and livelihoods.

“The only thing that went through my mind was, how can I possibly recreate it,” says owner Aaron Feuerstein, the third generation of his family to run the mill.

“I was proud of the family business and I wanted to keep that alive, and I wanted that to survive. But I also felt the responsibility for all my employees, to take care of them, to give them jobs.”

He made a decision—one that others in the textile industry found hard to believe. Feuerstein decided to rebuild right there in Lawrence—not to move down South or overseas as much of the industry had done in search of cheap labor.

He also made another shocking decision. For the next 60 days, all employees would be paid their full salaries.

“I think it was a wise business decision, but that isn't why I did it. I did it because it was the right thing to do,” says Feuerstein.

Some might have said the proper business decision was to take the $300 million in insurance and retire.

“And what would I do with it? Eat more? Buy another suit? Retire and die,” asks Feuerstein. “No, that did not go into my mind.”

He kept his promises. Workers picked up their checks for months. In all, he paid out $25 million and became known as the Mensch of Malden Mills—a businessman who seemed to care more about his workers than about his net worth.

[…]

“I got a lot of publicity. And I don't think that speaks well for our times,” says Feuerstein. “At the time in America of the greatest prosperity, the god of money has taken over to an extreme.”

For guidance he turns to the Torah, the book of Jewish law.

“You are not permitted to oppress the working man, because he's poor and he's needy, amongst your brethren and amongst the non–Jew in your community,” says Feuerstein, who spent $300 million of the insurance money and then borrowed $100 million more to build a new plant that is both environmentally friendly and worker friendly. And it's a union shop that never had a strike.

Update: In 2001, Malden Mills filed for bankruptcy. In 2007 the company eventually collapsed.

Source: Leung, Rebecca. “The Mensch of Malden Mills: CEO Aaron Feuerstein Puts Employees First.” CBS News. July 3, 2003. Retrieved January 10, 2015 from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-mensch-of-malden-mills/.

Discussion Questions about the Mensch of Malden Mills

  1. Describe the events that took place at Malden Mills.
  2. How is this story similar to or different from labor issues in New York City in the early 20th century?
  3. After the fire, what were Aaron Feuerstein’s main concerns?
  4. Why were so many people in the business world surprised by the action Aaron Feuerstein took after the fire?
  5. What informed his decision-making process?
  6. What were the consequences/results of Aaron Feuerstein’s decisions?
  7. What lessons could we learn from these events?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Mensch of Malden Mills." (Viewed on December 17, 2017) <https://jwa.org/node/22253>.

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