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MillerKnoll CEO sparks backlash after telling employees to "leave Pity City" over lack of bonuses

The CEO of a high-end office furniture company is sparking a backlash over a video in which she exhorts employees to "leave Pity City" after some asked about staying motivated if employees don't receive bonuses this year.

Andi Owen, whose company MillerKnoll sells the iconic Herman Miller Aeron chair, along with other upscale furniture, responded in a 1 minute, 21-second video clip that some social media users blasted as "unhinged," "nasty" and "toxic." 

Owen made the remarks as part of a 75-minute online meeting with workers, the company said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. It added that the clip "loses the context of the broader discussion." 

It also isn't lost on viewers that Owen, the former global president of Banana Republic, herself received a hefty compensation package last year. On top of her $1.1 million salary, she received $3.9 million in stock awards and other compensation for the fiscal year ended May 2022, according to MillerKnoll's most recent proxy statement.

In the video, Owen starts by saying she wants to address questions she received from workers about whether they might not get financial bonuses, exhorting them to "be kind" and "be respectful." But toward the end of the video her voice rises and she grows animated, telling workers to stop asking about the payments and focus on hitting the publicly traded company's financial goals.

"Don't ask about what are we going to do if we don't get a bonus," she said. "Spend your time and your effort thinking about the $26 million we need, and not thinking about what are we going to do if we don't get a bonus, alright? Can I get some commitment for that? I would appreciate that."

Owen concludes with what she describes as some wisdom a former boss shared with her: "You can visit Pity City but you can't live there. So people, leave Pity City — let's get it done."

The company hasn't yet decided on bonuses, a MillerKnoll spokesperson said.

"Our CEO believes fiercely in the company and what we can do together to finish our financial year strong," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "Our bonuses are set by the company's full year financial results and our fiscal year closes at the end of May."

Sales at the company dipped 4.4% in the most recent quarter ended March 4, while orders slumped 19%, with a slower economy and higher borrowing costs reducing demand for expensive office furniture. 

Owen's compensation declined last year, with her total pay package falling to $4.9 million in 2022 from $6.4 million in the prior fiscal year, according to a regulatory filing. 

That salary drop is unlikely to arouse much sympathy among those workers supposedly living in "Pity City." The median total pay of MillerKnoll employees is roughly $45,000, which means Owen earns about 111 times the pay of her typical worker, according to the company's proxy. 

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