Brian Walker, Herman Miller’s corporate president and chief operating officer for a little more than a year, will succeed Volkema as CEO on July 26. Walker has held a series of senior management positions with Herman Miller, including president of North American operations and before that as CFO, since he joined the company in 1989.
The leadership transition comes as Herman Miller and other office furniture makers begin to dig out from a deep three-year sales downturn.
“His intellect and tireless energy, coupled with a strong personal value, have been invaluable to Herman Miller and to me personally during both good and difficult times,” Volkema said of Walker, with whom he has worked closely for nine years. “In my opinion he is more than ready for this next leadership challenge. Brian is going to make a great CEO.”
Volkema explained the leadership change, and the splitting of chairman and CEO duties, as following corporate governance trends and a move that allows both executives to focus more on “critical responsibilities.” For Volkema, that means dedicating more time to the Herman Miller Creative Office, a unit that researches product innovations for new markets.
He calls the Creative Office “very important to the company’s future prosperity.”
“I’m passionate about this work,” he said during a conference call last week with brokerage analysts in which he hinted at a “big invention” that he could talk more about in four to six months.
“We think it’s going to be significant and have a really positive impact on our long-term prosperity,” he said.
Volkema, 48, has served as Herman Miller’s CEO since 1995 and has held the dual role as chairman since late 2000. He’s widely credited with re-invigorating Herman Miller during the late 1990s — a period of strong growth for the office furniture industry — and re-connecting with the company’s deep design heritage.
Industry analyst Mike Dunlap gives Volkema high marks for how he managed the company during the last three years, as Herman Miller lost some 40 percent of its sales volume in the wake of the unprecedented industry downturn. Of note is a strong management team Volkema has built over the years, including Walker, Dunlap said.
“I’ve admired this leadership team both in good times and bad,” Dunlap said. “They have made a marvelous team. They are both very bright people and they’ve got very bright people around them.”
Walker, 42, has been corporate president and chief operating officer since March 2003. He joined Herman Miller in 1989 and, after holding a variety of positions in financial management within the international operations, became executive vice president and chief financial officer in 1995.
Walker moved up to president of Herman Miller North America in 2000 and has worked closely with Volkema and Herman Miller directors to steer the company through the harsh downturn for the past three years. His focus as CEO is to continue top-line growth, implementing corporate strategies that call for developing new products and markets, and leadership development, he said.
“As a company we benefit from this continuity in our leadership team and its shared vision and strategy. Over the past three years we have become a more focused organization with the will to win,” Walker said.
“I’m convinced that Herman Miller is poised for a new period of growth and prosperity. We have the people, capabilities and leadership to win in the marketplace.”