VOL. 116 | NO. 47 | Friday, March 8, 2002
By MARY DANDO
The Daily News
Despite reports to the contrary, cotton is still king in Memphis.
And William Buchanan "Bill" Dunavant III should know.
Recently elected president of Cotton Council International, Dunavant, a third-generation cotton merchant is president of Dunavant Enterprises, a privately owned company ranked as one of the worlds largest cotton traders.
Dunavant Enterprises handles in excess of 4 million bales of U.S. and foreign cotton per year.
This year, the United States is expected to export 10 million bales of cotton. This is the largest amount of cotton exported since 1926 when 11.7 million bales were exported.
And most of the cotton traded in the world is traded through the home of the blues.
"The majority of all cotton in the world is still traded in Memphis, Tenn. Memphis is still the cotton capital of the world no question about that," Dunavant said.
The major cotton trading companies of the world including his own firm as well as Dreyfus and Cargill are all located here, he said.
A graduate of Memphis University School, and with a degree from the University of Virginia, Dunavant joined Dunavant Enterprises in 1982. He gained extensive training including working in the sample room in Memphis as well as spending several years in Asia, Europe and Latin America to learn the international business.
He founded and started Dunavants Australian operations, which saw the construction of three super gins with capacity of more than 300,000 bales. He owns a 10,000-acre cotton farm in Emerald, Australia.
Dunavant is also first vice president of the American Cotton Shippers Association and board member of the National Cotton Council. He is past president of the Southern Cotton Association and board member of the Memphis Cotton Exchange.
As the U.S. textile industry declines and the manufacturing focus shifts elsewhere, Dunavant sees his role as an ambassador of American cotton to ensure garments fabricated abroad are made of homegrown cotton.
The irony of the current situation is many of these garments end up being sold in U.S. stores.
The good news, Dunavant said is the American cotton industry is prepared.
As this years president of CCI, Dunavant travels the world persuading textile manufacturers abroad to use American cotton.
On Sept. 11, Dunavant was in India on his way to Pakistan when he heard the news about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Instead, he flew to Switzerland where Dunavant Enterprises has offices and stayed there until he could return to his family.
This month he travels to Bangladesh, Indonesia and Hong Kong to spread the message "Heres why you should use American cotton over something else."
After that his plans include visiting Pakistan and Uzbekistan, both major markets for U.S. cotton.
The downside of traveling so much is being away from his family.
He married the former Michelle Spencer-Barnes. Shes English and they met when she came to Memphis when her sister married a Memphian.
They have four children, Audsley, 12; Hilary, 10; Billy, 4; and Harry, 2.
"When Im at home, I like to put the children to bed," he said.
Next fall, the two eldest girls get to travel with him to Egypt and India.
Away from work he likes to hunt and fish. In April he travels to the Arctic to hunt polar bear.
Although Dunavant is very active in the community, he said these interests would have to take a backseat to his work because of the importance of securing more markets for U.S. cotton in the light of the American textile industrys decline.
He is currently vice chairman of St. Georges High School board and chairman of Shelby County Greenways committee. He is also past president of the Memphis Botanic Garden and past president of the Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
He believes it is important to give back to his community.
"As an old Memphis family, you want to return to the community what the community has given to you," he said.