The office-furniture design leader is betting on innovation as it continues to push the envelope of management practice.
by Bill Birchard
This is a great case study on growth. Among the many learnings, the one I want to highlight here is the importance of using your fundamental strength as a foundation for growth and then incorporate the capabilities of others to drive growth.
"At the start of the 2000s, Michael Volkema, then the chief executive officer of Herman Miller Inc., became convinced that growth in the white-collar workforce was going to slow in the company’s main markets. That was a threat to this office-furniture maker, based in Zeeland, Mich., whose revenues depended on products sold to the white-collar workforce — products such as office desks, chairs, panels, shelves, and cabinets. Volkema’s solution was to create the Creative Office, a capability within Herman Miller for identifying adjacent markets in which the company could build businesses that would provide significant new streams of revenue.....
......In lighting, for example, GE, Philips, and Osram Sylvania were then focusing on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as substitutes for standard incandescent light fixtures. Miller and his team saw an alternative: using the low-voltage DC power of LEDs for novel kinds of illumination — light tunnels, walls, lighted objects, wearable light. Why restrict lights to conventional overhead fixtures? Why not integrate them into office furniture and fixtures in new ways?
That effort led to a suite of product prototypes dubbed Programmable Environments, and later to a new business named Convia. Among the prototypes were illuminated, movable “visual shields” that changed color and a suspended wall with integrated LEDs. Integral to the new product suite was the notion of programmability. Office workers themselves would be able to use various devices, including their desktop computers, to reconfigure and reprogram the office environment. The new hardware and software allowed Miller and his team to redefine how people would think about personal space, office geometry, privacy, and illumination. In the end, the R&D project spawned 25 patent applications, and Convia was established as a Herman Miller subsidiary in 2006.