Herman Miller's Legacy to Continue
Over the decades, workspace design evolves with working culture. One thing that doesn’t change is people’s preference of office furniture. One brand that remains the leader in this category is Herman Miller. Having established a presence since 1905, the Michigan-based company is also credited for the invention of office cubicles. We recently had a chance to meet Andrew Lock, also known by his nickname Andy, the man who helms Herman Miller, to talk about the brand’s heritage and the current trends of office designs.
How do you define the legacy of Herman Miller over these decades?
Herman Miller always has its own reasons to establish a presence in the industry. We are not just simply producing products; we are here in the industry to serve humanity. We are doing our best to make the world a slightly better place. So in terms of products, we keep striving to design products to solve people’s needs, to enhance their comfort in their daily lives. It’s also the respect for people. We don’t just do something like, “just give me a hand and get the job done”. In Herman Miller, we want people’s hands, minds and hearts. Most of all, we want them to be part of our big family and to sense of the family value which is always endured.
Having established your career in human resources discipline, what led you to Herman Miller?
Continuing from my last answer, in my case, I went to visit Herman Miller in the UK, and in those days, British industry was very traditional and very formal. There was this lovely blonde-haired lady behind the reception as I walked in the door. She stood up, with big a smile coming over her face, and she said, “I bet you are Andy Lock. Welcome to Herman Miller!” That lady is Joyce Bateman who was our receptionist 28 years ago, and still is today, and to be honest she’s the reason I joined Herman Miller, because there’s clearly a warmly intimate welcome about the firm. That was different than what I had ever experienced before. I knew nothing about the office furniture industry and its design, but I knew that was the company I wanted to be associated with.
You travel a lot for this job, what do you love the most about seeing different offices in the world furnished by Herman Miller?
Clearly, I love the fact that wherever I go I see people using our products. What I love the most, actually, is meeting people. I love the opportunity to be in different cultures and meet different individuals from various corners of the world. For me, that is the biggest opportunity when you travel around the world.
What are the current challenges in the office furniture industry?
The world is shifting very quickly. That’s the challenge. In my working life, we are going from the day regimented cubicle people being separated from one another, to a very open floor plate. And now, we are moving from traditional furniture to more residential style office furniture. We call it “resimercial”, so there is a connection between residential and commercial elements. An office nowadays looks more and more like a home, and a home perhaps looks a little bit like an office.
How do you foresee the upcoming office trends?
I think the future of workspace function is very much about collecting data and then thoughtfully using it. You can really be good at capturing data, as well as determining on how, when and who uses the office, so you can make the necessary space of an office. If you think about the cost, the biggest cost a company can incur is real estate. It is very expensive, as that particular company wants to be able to use their real estate in the most efficient way possible. If they don’t want to have an efficient workspace that doesn’t cost much, they need to have a workspace that can enhance the experience their human resources. The space works for you and make people happy to be there.
Herman Miller has been the standard of luxury offices. Is it always like that from the beginning?
We never ever thought ourselves as a luxury company and we still don’t. We think ourselves as a problem solving company. Some people might say you own a Herman Miller, which cost more than maybe other local furniture. But what matters more is Herman Miller brings with it a 12-year warranty that will stand to the very end.
How do you define luxury office?
To me a luxury office is the one that solves the need of the people who are in it. Luxury is about having our comfort and convenience, with the fundamental needs that fit the surrounding environment. Yet, it isn’t luxury if it doesn’t serve the function. In my view, the ergonomically good working environment that helps me do my job better, feel relaxed and comfortable; those things are the luxury, rather than the ones that sound like ‘you just spent a lot of money for an expensive good’.
Is it true that you will be retiring by July? What’s your future plan? What will you miss the most about being with Herman Miller?
It is true that I’m retiring at the end of July. I travel all the time so I really don’t spend a lot of time with my own wife – I see my colleagues more than I see her. So my retirement will allow me to spend a lot of time with my wife. My colleagues are whom I will miss the most. I will miss the people, I’ve been very lucky with, in my 28 years working with Herman Miller. I will miss working with a lot of very clever, creative, intelligent people whom I have learnt a lot from them. The good news is, people like that exist all over the planet so as long as you stay open and keep listening, I guess you can go and get that experience.