World Carpets, which merged with Mohawk Industries in 1998, is one of the largest tufted carpet companies in the nation. Its founder, Shaheen Shaheen, introduced numerous innovations to the carpet industry in the latter half of the twentieth century.
The son of Azeez Shaheen and Saleemeh Balluteen, both Palestinian immigrants, Shaheen Azeez Shaheen was born on January 23, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois. He attended public schools in Chicago and graduated with a B.S. from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949. A summer job in 1947 working for Katherine Chenilles, a rug mill in Dalton, Georgia, prepared Shaheen for a career in the carpet industry. Upon graduation from college Shaheen became a salesman for Katherine Chenilles in the Midwest before settling in Dalton to manage the company’s office and oversee its manufacturing. During this period Shaheen met and married Piera Barbaglia, who was born in Mystic, Iowa, and reared in northern Italy. During World War II (1941-45) Barbaglia, armed with a business degree, had managed the finances for the local underground movement against the Italian Fascists and German Nazis. After the war she returned to the United States and met Shaheen.
In 1954 the couple started their own business, World Carpets. According to Shaheen, their partnership was the key to World Carpets’ success. Barbaglia’s expertise with finance and office management matched Shaheen’s manufacturing experience and innovative marketing and labor skills.
World Carpets became one of the first in its industry to completely integrate its operations, from spinning all the way to delivery of the finished product, by starting the first company trucking division in the industry. In 1968 the company became the first in the industry to put into production a Kuster continuous dyeing range—first in solid colors and then in TAK multicolor. As World Carpets expanded, Shaheen developed the first custom-color dyeing program for the West Coast market.
For Shaheen, the quality of World Carpets’ products has been a major focus. In the late 1960s and 1970s he led a campaign to persuade the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to establish and enforce a new carpet certification program. Shaheen wanted all carpet manufacturers to follow FHA standards specifying that any carpet installed in an FHA home must be of a certain weight. Many carpet manufacturers were installing carpet that was as much as 30 percent below the minimum weight requirement, yet they were giving dealers letters certifying that the carpets were of full weight. In 1975, after many meetings in Washington, D.C., and much activity in Dalton, the FHA agreed to adopt and enforce the proposed standards.
In November 1998 World Carpets merged with Mohawk Industries, the largest flooring company in the country.
World Carpets has maintained a reputation as a generous employer. Among the benefits the company offers are a profit-sharing program for all employees, biannual cash bonuses, educational scholarships for all employees’ children, in-plant General Equivalency Diploma programs, and college tuition grants to employees. From 1978 to 1988 golf and country club memberships were also available to all employees for a $5 fee.
In the community, the Shaheens have been active in the Stay in School program, the homeless rehabilitation program of Harvest Outreach, and worldwide evangelical missionary work.