Herman Miller's Win-Win Solution



What makes a quality company? How does a company demonstrate their priorities to other stake holders?

If I were to distill quality business into one simple idea, it would be an organization that seeks out win-win relationships with all stakeholders. Win-win relationships build trust that is so rare but important in business.

There is a story about Herman Miller (TIK: MLHR) that I think demonstrates a win-win situation perfectly. The story also reminds me of Herb Kelleher’s strategy at Southwest Airlines, “ready, fire, aim.”

For those that aren’t familiar, Herman Miller is an office furniture designer and manufacturer with a environmental and sustainability bend. In 1995, the company, based in Holland, Michigan, tapped William McDonough to design a new facility promoting the company’s green philosophy.

The building was dubbed the “Greenhouse” and had a soil roof. Of course soil roofs are better at holding in heat during the winter and expending heat during the summer. Better heating efficiency would promote the company’s green philosophy. What they didn’t realize was that their roof would attract a huge population of paper wasps in the spring of 2000. The wasps were getting into the building and threatening workers and visitors. So how do they take care of the problem?

Well, pesticides would be one option, but not suitable to their green vision. They needed another alternative. One idea that was proposed was, since the “Greenhouse” was situated in a heavily flowered area, to bring in bees. Bees and wasps do not go together as bees take over the wasps main food source.

12 beehives (with approximately 600,000 honeybees) were brought in. The idea worked. The bees forced the wasps to vacate and the company now produces a large amount of honey each year. Inhabitat.com mentioned that the company produced 4,800 lbs of honey in 2001. The honey is given as goodwill to workers and facility guests.

Talk about living their priorities, turning lemons into lemonade and seeing through the eyes of the surrounding environment. A great win-win situation, well at least for the flowers, bees and company.

Herman Miller’s win-win mentality has led to a stock price that has taken care of itself over the long term. After the “Greenhouse” was built, the stock has outperformed the S&P 500.


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