Haworth Undertakes CEO Transition

    HOLLAND — The leadership transition at Haworth Inc. was in the works well before the office furniture industry began falling from the highs of the late 1990s.

    Jerry Johanneson, a 16-year veteran of Haworth who was the company’s first non-family member chief executive, decided three years ago to begin planning for retirement and the eventual succession to a new CEO. Had it not been for the unprecedented industry downturn, Johanneson would have retired sooner as Haworth’s president and CEO.

    “I probably stayed a little longer because the economy was bad and I knew the business and we needed to do some restructuring,” the 62-year-old Johanneson said.

    Now, with the worst of the downturn appearing over and Haworth on a strong financial footing, “The timing is just right,” said Johanneson, who will continue to serve on Haworth’s board of directors.

    “From a financial standpoint, the company is on solid ground,” he said. “Even if the market didn’t move from here, we’re doing well.”

    Robert Krasa, a 27-year veteran of Dow Corning Corp. who joined Haworth 14 months ago as head of North American operations, becomes Haworth’s new president and CEO when Johanneson retires Jan. 31.

    Krasa doesn’t expect to implement any “radical changes” when he assumes the chief executive’s role and will seek to build on the company’s strategy of growing globally through acquisitions, product innovation and penetrating new markets, while adhering to a dedication to customers and making continual improvements within.

    “They got here in a very evolutionary and disciplined way and I expect to continue that legacy,” Krasa said. “We have expectations that this is a growth business that has growth opportunities for Haworth on a global basis.”

    Johanneson, a veteran of the farm equipment, trucking and tire industries, joined Haworth in 1986 as executive vice president of marketing and sales. He previously worked 21 years at International Harvester, where he served as vice president of marketing for Canada and sat on the company’s board of directors.

    Johanneson became president in January 1994 and added the CEO responsibilities in 1997, as Chairman Dick Haworth gave up the day-to-day reins of running the company to focus on long-term planning and strategy.

    Along with Dick Haworth and founder Gerrard W. Haworth, Johanneson served on the corporation’s top management team, known as the Corporate Executive Office.

    Dick Haworth credited Johanneson with helping to align the company’s cost structure as it grew into global markets and with developing a strong dealer network worldwide.

    “Jerry is the most distinguished businessman I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Haworth said. “He brought business acumen, focus and dedication to his role.”

    During Johanneson’s tenure with the company, Haworth acquired more than 25 companies, expanded its product lines from a few into the hundreds, and grew from a domestic company with annual revenues of $270 million to one of the leading global players in the office furniture industry with operations in 120 countries.

    Haworth topped out at $2.06 billion in sales in 2000. The industry downturn that began two years ago pushed sales downward in 2001 to $1.71 billion.

    Krasa has served as president and general manager of the Haworth’s North American Contract Furniture sector. He previously worked as vice president for the global semiconductor and silicone intermediates business at Midland-based Dow Corning, a $1.5 billion business unit. He also served on Dow’s corporate executive committee.

    “With 15 years in global executive positions, he is well qualified to take us to the next level of growth,” Haworth said.           

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