Jim Keane, president and CEO of Steelcase, is set to retire next year after 25 years with the company and seven years as CEO.
The Grand Rapids-based furniture maker said Monday that Keane will retire Jan. 7. He will remain president and CEO until Oct. 4, at which time he will become vice chair and will serve in that role until his full retirement from the company.
Sara Armbruster, who has been appointed executive vice president and a member of the Steelcase board of directors, will take over as president and CEO on Oct. 4.
“I have never been more excited about the future of Steelcase,” Keane said. “Still, after 25 years, it’s the right time for me to move forward, and with the crisis ending, the recovery taking shape and a number of innovative new products ready to go, it will be the perfect time for the company to welcome a new CEO.
“I’m delighted Sara has been chosen by the board as our next CEO. All along, I’ve relied on Sara as my partner in developing strategy, and more recently, I turned to her to lead us through crises. She is a well-respected people leader with a deep commitment to the values that make Steelcase a great place to work.”
Keane, 61, joined the company in 1997. During this time, he held the positions of COO, CFO, president and CEO. In his time with the company, he led global teams responsible for corporate strategy, IT, research, product development, design, engineering, manufacturing, sales and distribution. Appointed to Steelcase’s board of directors in 2013, Keane also serves on the boards of Rockwell Automation, IDEO, the Economics Club of Grand Rapids, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA) and is on the board of trustees of Grand Valley University Foundation. He is both an at-large member and board member of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from America’s leading companies.
Steelcase credited Keane with transforming the company into a globally integrated enterprise, curating a strong organizational culture of rapid and decentralized decision-making. He established the Steelcase Learning + Innovation Center in Munich — a global hub where employees, dealers and guests come together to learn and innovate the future of work. Steelcase said his ability to foster creativity and drive innovation has enabled the company to lead a transformation of the office landscape — from places designed solely around efficiency to dynamic places that support the changing nature of work.
Steelcase said Keane’s belief in using business as a force for good manifested in the company’s commitment to environmental and social governance (ESG). Steelcase is an original signatory to the Business Roundtable’s 2019 statement on the purpose of a corporation, where Keane and other signing CEOs committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders. ISS, an investor rating agency that grades companies on their holistic commitment to ESG, ranked Steelcase the highest in its industry, with only two companies rated higher in the July 2020 ISS ESG Corporate Rating.
Steelcase also was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of “The 100 Most Sustainably Managed Companies in the World.” In 2020, the company achieved carbon neutrality and set science-based targets to move beyond net-zero emissions by 2030.
“The board of directors and I would like to thank Jim for his incredible leadership as CEO these past seven years and dedication to Steelcase the past quarter of a century,” said Rob Pew, board chair. “Under his leadership, the company has experienced tremendous levels of innovation and growth. Jim led the business through the recent global crisis and leaves Steelcase in a strong strategic and financial position. We wish him the best in his retirement.”
The Steelcase board began planning this CEO transition about two years ago with a final assessment process taking place over recent months. The rigorous evaluation process included a series of discussions and presentations from multiple candidates.
“I want to thank our board for their attention and commitment to this important decision. Sara excelled through the assessment process, demonstrating her thoughtfulness, collaborative design-thinking capabilities and inclusive mindset,” Pew said. “Sara will be the 10th CEO in our 109-year history. Her strategy expertise, leadership style and over two decades in executive positions uniquely qualify her to step into this role.”
Since joining the company in 2007, Armbruster, 50, has led corporate strategy and acquisition activities. She has additionally led multiple businesses at Steelcase, including Steelcase Education, Steelcase Health and PolyVision Corporation. Her responsibilities include leading information technology, global design research, new business initiatives and the company’s COVID-19 global crisis response team.
Armbruster currently serves on the board of directors of Winnebago Industries and sits on the board of advisers of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She also is involved with numerous nonprofit organizations in West Michigan. Before joining Steelcase, Armbruster worked at McKinsey & Company and served as vice president of business development at Banta Corporation, where she led strategy development and managed all merger and acquisition activity.
Armbruster holds an MBA from the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College, a master’s degree in international relations from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree in Slavic languages and literature from Yale University.
“I am truly honored to accept this new role and grateful for the 14 years I worked closely with Jim Keane,” Armbruster said. “I’m proud to work alongside our strong senior leadership and incredibly talented, committed teams around the world. This is an important moment of growth for our company as the places where people work and learn are being reimagined. Thanks to Jim, Steelcase is tremendously well positioned at a time when leadership in shaping the future of work is critical.”