Bill Mow shook off an impoverished boyhood and an early hi-tech disaster to build a billion-dollar sportswear empire.



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ill Mow's phone doesn't ring. No one calls to push urgent matters to his attention. His salon-sized office, the nerve-center of half-billion-dollar Bugle Boy Industries, is as quiet and cultured as a Far Eastern museum. And the pin-knot-pine-paneled walls are almost as well hung. A vast Japanese screen of an enormous prowling tiger looms over the sofa at the reception end of the office, the end adjacent to the private office of Mow's personal secretary. On the far wall, the one behind Mow's own desk, hangs a mountainscape by a recently deceased Chinese modern master. A more traditional Chinese painting of a wild horse leans against the wall. Between these walls is enough acreage to house a half-dozen lawyers or a paddle-tennis court.

     Next to the doorway stands an elegant pin-knot showcase displaying a half dozen millenium-old Chinese bric-a-brac. Another part of the inner sanctum is a full-sized conference room which shares a pin-knot-paneled wall with Mow's office. Perhaps as a concession to U.S. corporate culture, the conference room is decorated in an English motif, complete with one green felt wall hung with riding scenes. Outside its sliding glass doors is a quasi-Japanese garden, complete with a strand of bamboo a wooden bridge and a koi pond like the one in Mow's Brentwood Park estate, except that the carp at home are much older.

     At our first meeting Bill Mow (pronounced like Mao) is wearing a casual olive-drab sports coat and pea-green pants, both by Bugle Boy Men's, a relatively new division that hasn't captured anything like the commanding 50% market share enjoyed by Bugle Boy's young men's line or the 45% held by the boy's division. As Mow steps around to shake hands, I notice that his cotton pants are wrinkled from a morning behind the desk, and his moccasins are worn, creating an impression of scruffiness at odds with the splendid office. Mow's boyishly toussled hair is without a visible trace of gray and his face is youthful, with few of the lines you'd expect on a 54-year-old CEO. Despite the fact that he has been in the U.S. for 42 years, he looks like an engineering graduate student from mainland China. The impression is exacerbated by the wire-rimmed glasses. I feel as though I walked in and caught an employee, a junior-level one, stealing a moment in the boss's chair. It takes a few moments for me to be fully convinced that I am not the victim of an office prank in the real boss's absence.

     Mow is tall and trim. Was a time when he could knock off 75 pushups. Now he plays golf three days a week, or tries to. He mentions he shot 79 at a Bugle Boy tournament the other month, modestly adding that he normally shoots in the 90s. Later, it occurs to me that what Mow probably wanted noted wasn't his golf score but the fact that Bugle Boy held a company tournament.

     The office we are sitting in is on the ground floor at one end of the two-story administrative wing of Bugle Boy Industries' gleaming 300,000-square-foot complex overlooking Highway 118 in Simi Valley, California. We have been talking for an hour and Mow has convinced me that BBI is a finely-tuned machine that hums as quietly as a well-programmed computer system. "You can see my phone doesn't ring," he points out. Every one of his salesmen everywhere in the country (and soon, in the world) carries a Toshiba laptop that can be plugged into any phone jack for instant access to inventory and sales data stored in an IBM AS400, a top-of-the-line minicomputer with 128 megabytes of main memory and over a gigabyte of storage. It is the company's central nervous system. PAGE 2

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“I feel as though I walked in and caught an employee, a junior-level one, stealing a moment in the boss's chair.”

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