Aaron Feuerstein dies at 95, paid idled workers after mill fire

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BOSTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Former Boston-area millowner Aaron Feuerstein, who gained fame for paying workers idled after a fire in December 1995, has died at the age of 95, his son Daniel Feuerstein said on Thursday.

Feuerstein drew national attention after he continued paying 1,400 workers displaced from the Malden Mills factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts, known for its Polartec fleece fabric.

Although Feuerstein later lost control of his company, he came to symbolize a business approach now known as "stakeholder capitalism," in which executives consider the needs of workers and communities as well as shareholders.

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"For my father, the most important stakeholders were his factory workers," said Daniel Feuerstein. He and his brother Ray said their father died of complications from pneumonia after a fall at home in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts last week. "His workers were his people, his community," Daniel Feuerstein said.

After the fire, Feuerstein rebuilt the textile factory north of Boston with insurance money but reinvested too much in unprofitable areas like furniture fabric, leading to bankruptcies and the sale of the business founded by his grandfather, which once employed about 3,000 people. Polartec is now a brand of Milliken & Co.

Yet the blunt-spoken Feuerstein became an icon at a time when many business leaders were celebrated for laying off workers and cutting costs to maximize profits.

Just after the fire, Feuerstein said, "I'm not throwing 3,000 people out of work two weeks before Christmas," a Malden Mills executive once told the Boston Globe newspaper.

Ultimately Feuerstein paid wages to all 1,400 workers displaced by the fire for 90 days and extended their health benefits. Many were immigrants from Lawrence and the nearby city of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Feuerstein won wide acclaim for his actions. He was invited as a guest for President Bill Clinton's 1996 State of the Union address and appeared on the CBS News program "60 Minutes."

Former Malden Mills manager David Costello said Feuerstein at first resisted the attention but later "appreciated the fact that he was the bearer of a good message."

"He made you feel like the company had a mission, and a commitment to its employees, its products and its customers," Costello said.

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Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O'Brien

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