Yale School of Management

Herman Miller


Approaching his tenth anniversary as CEO of Herman Miller (NASDAQ: MLHR), Brian Walker found himself in a pensive frame of mind, reflecting on what had been accomplished during his tenure and on the future challenges ahead. It was the end of 2014, two and a half years since Walker had announced a major strategic initiative that he called “Shift.” The strategy would take the furniture company far from its roots in rural West Michigan, expand its product line, and develop more direct connections to consumers.

Walker knew he was steward to a storied company with a distinctive place in corporate history. Through its emphasis on design, Herman Miller had been in the vanguard of the modernist movement in furniture and had become a leader in providing cutting-edge office fixtures. The company also set audacious goals to protect the environment and established a major institute on facility management. Through it all, the company culture honored the evangelical Christian values of West Michigan—in particular, the Reformed Protestant tradition embraced by its first CEOs from the De Pree family—to create a human resource system that celebrated the whole worker.

Still, the furniture industry was subject to the ups and downs of economic cycles. Herman Miller had been hit hard by the recession that began in 2008, requiring layoffs and cutbacks in training that challenged the firm’s values-based, covenantal culture. To fuel growth and expand the firm’s global footprint, Walker and his executives had framed the Shift strategy and embarked on an ambitious series of acquisitions.

The Shift strategy had introduced massive change into a tight-knit, conservative enterprise. A twenty-five year veteran of the firm and its former CFO, Walker believed Shift would require a number of significant adjustments to Herman Miller. Looking ahead, he pondered the challenge of continuing to implement the strategy without tearing the fabric of what had made the company special.

Revised Date:
February 10, 2016
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Teaching Note:
Suggested Citation:

Charles Euchner, “Herman Miller,” Yale SOM Case 14-020, December 15, 2014

  • United States
  • Furniture
  • Competitor/Strategy
  • Customer/Marketing
  • Employee/HR
  • Ethics & Religion
  • Innovation & Design
  • Leadership & Teamwork