Over breakfast we talked with the company’s Head of Facilities, a 30-year Herman Miller veteran who is following in his father’s footsteps, also a 30-year veteran and facilities manager at Herman Miller. He played a role in a famous Herman Miller story that speaks to the culture of the company and gets to the heart of their reason-for-being.
When they were building their newest production facility in a meadow just outside Holland MI, one of the challenges they faced was an infestation of wasps. The first reaction was to destroy the nests… but somehow, that just didn’t seem right to the Herman Miller building team. Was there a better way?
In studying the situation, they learned that bees are natural enemies of wasps. So, they arranged for a bee-keeper to establish hives on the property. Now there are no more wasps, just colonies of busy, less aggressive bees!
That’s not the end of the story. Today, visitors to the plant are presented with the results of this win/win solution: a small jar of honey from the Herman Miller bees!
Breakfast over; it’s back on the bus and a brief trip over to the production plant mentioned above. We saw the hives on our way to the plant amongst groves of fruit trees.
Like so much of what we have seen so far, the plant is very unique in layout. The meet and greet area is as nice as any home you would enjoy visiting, only bigger. Welcome, orientation and more delicious coffee in a seating area of plush couches, book-shelves and an entertainment centre. It could be your family’s favourite place to hang out.
They call this manufacturing facility The GreenHouse, and rightly so, since it makes the best possible use of available daylight; even the production areas have huge skylights. Plants and even small trees are a feature of the corridors and meeting areas.
The production manager explained how Herman Miller consulted with the most progressive manufacturers to develop production lines that were both people-friendly and productive. On the line we toured, dedicated to one chair design, a finished product left the line assembled and packaged for shipping every 17 seconds.
Another highlight of our second day was a discussion with the company’s people responsible for performance environments and workplace knowledge. They are responsible for the research that leads Herman Miller’s customer services, focused on optimizing client spaces and maximizing their appeal for employees. We learned a great deal about what offices of the future may look like and trends in the industry.
Then it was lunch in the meeting area prepared in the plant’s kitchen. Again, delicious.
As dessert was served, we were asked individually to comment on what we had seen and offer ideas about how we could continue to interact together in the future. Some very provocative ideas were shared and I suspect we will be hearing more from these very clever, helpful and friendly, design-driven people.
As impressive as their products and facilities are, Herman Miller people are the jewels of the organization; we spent significant amounts of time with a very diverse group: from design, to facilities management, research, finance, production line leaders and operations staff. While they all had their own way of expressing their activities, objectives and contributions to the organization, the overall continuity in what we heard is my most lasting take away. Everyone was so passionate about what they did and so proud of their company- singing from the same song sheet.
All of us on the trip home agreed that this was one of the most enlightening business tours we have ever been on. In fact, we could only think of one thing to complain about; our bus driver missed the parking entrance to the duty free shop on the way back over the boarder.