The name Herman Miller is synonymous with comfortable, well-designed and expensive chairs. Recently, the company's signature designs have been featured on Mad Men (Fast Company called Herman Miller the show's "secret weapon").
Arguably no one at the company knows the importance of continuous innovation, even with a best-in-class brand name, better than Brian Walker. He has served as Herman Miller's CEO since 2004, president since 2003 and CFO from 1996 to 2000. Recently, CBSMoneyWatch spoke to Walker about the Herman Miller brand, his outlook for the future of the company that was founded in 1923 and what he looks for when hiring.
CBS MoneyWatch: What do you consider your biggest win in the decade you've been CEO of Herman Miller?
Brian Walker: Our ability to attract a new generation of creative talent. Our creative team includes researchers, engineers, brand designers, experience designers, marketing people and our industrial design partners. I think our creative capital is as strong as it has been in my 25 years with Herman Miller.
MW: What's the biggest hurdle you're looking at right now?
BW: Our biggest challenge will be to manage a much more diverse business in terms of the types of customers we serve, products we make and sell, and geographies we serve around the world. It will also be important that we do a great job of teaching and demonstrating our values, so that the core of what we stand for remains at the center of who we are.
MW: What do you think people think of when they hear the words "Herman Miller?" Are you happy with that understanding?
BW: I think people often know us either for one of our iconic designs or for our management philosophy. I'm really happy folks know us for those things, since they are both very important. I think a more complete picture would include innovative design, durable products and being both a good citizen and great place to work.
MW: What did you study, and how does it impact what you do now?
BW: I majored in business, with an emphasis in accounting. I think of accounting as the language of business. My advice to college students would be to take a broad course load. Specifically, I would suggest they develop good verbal and written communication skills and learn at least one foreign language.
MW: When you're hiring, what do you look for?
BW: I'm always looking for folks who are "maze bright." To me, that means they're curious and willing to try new things and confident they can find their way. They have often tried something that didn't work out as they had planned, but in the end they found a way to solve the problem.