Krasa Meets Challenges

    HOLLAND — One year into his tenure as chief executive, Bob Krasa is steering Haworth Inc. into a future that is certainly different from its past.

    Like other industry players, Haworth is moving into territory where making good office furniture isn’t enough anymore. To meet the changing market demands that are requiring office furniture makers to provide more of the components that comprise a modern professional office, Haworth is transitioning from a maker of “work spaces” into producing “work places.”

    As the office furniture industry finally looks to be beginning to dig out of a deep hole dug during a devastating three-year downturn, Krasa sees the changing market dynamics as opportunity for future growth.

    “There’s a bigger pie to take a piece of, so we believe that’s going to support strong growth going forward,” Krasa said.

    To help it meet the changes the industry is facing, Haworth last fall acquired Interface AR, a Grand Rapids-based maker of raised flooring in commercial buildings. The raised floors carry data and power utilities throughout the office and house heating, cooling and ventilation systems.

    The Interface AR acquisition, combined with the 2000 acquisition of SMED International, a Canadian-based maker of moveable office walls, enabled Haworth to provide clients architectural components of the office “from the floor on up,” Krasa said. That capability, in turn, has begun to get Haworth involved earlier in the process when a customer is having office space designed, particularly when it involves long-term real estate commitments, he said.

    A former Dow Corning senior executive who joined Haworth in late 2001 as president and general manager of the North American contract furnishings division, Krasa became president and chief executive officer of the Holland-based firm a year ago following the retirement of former CEO Jerry Johanneson. Together with Chairman Richard Haworth, Krasa is part of what’s known as the company’s Corporate Executive Office.

    A Detroit native who grew up in Rutherford, N.J., and Chicago, Krasa spent 27 years at Dow Corning, including three years as president of the company’s Asian operations. He also spent four years as the CEO of a $350 million Japanese company and speaks fluent Japanese.

    When he decided to leave Dow Corning and seek out new professional challenges, Krasa found in Haworth and office furniture an industry that intrigued him. In addition to the business skills needed to run the business, Krasa was drawn by how the industry blends engineering and design with a deep knowledge of the science of how people interact and work in an office in order to produce a final product.

    Even with the bottom falling out of the office furniture industry in the last three years, costing Haworth more than $700 million in sales volume or more than 40 percent off the peak of $2.06 billion in annual sales in 2000, that fascination still holds for Krasa.

    “In spite of the downturn, this has been fun. This is an exceptional industry to be in,” Krasa said. “I don’t think I’ve had a negative day since I’ve been here, although I’ve had several hard, challenging days.”

    And those kinds of days and periods only make you better, Krasa said, although he jokes that being part of such a large industry downturn “was not on my seek-out” list when he was looking to move on from Dow Corning, he said.

    “Down times are great opportunities,” he said. “How you manage through difficult times is critical to the long-term success of the company.”

    In that arena, Krasa believes Haworth made “substantial progress” in 2003 on internal issues such as manufacturing productivity, new product development and introductions, and extending its capability and broadening the product mix to meet changing market dynamics.

    “It’s just been a great year,” Krasa said of his first year as CEO.

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