Business as unusual

I’ve been so taken with the writings of Max de Pree on leadership that, some time ago, I decided to look deeper into Herman Miller the company. And in doing so, I came across a book written two decades ago called Business As Unusual, by Hugh De Pree, who preceded Max as President and CEO.

In that book, Hugh quotes “DJ” De Pree, talking about how he felt at the start of the Great Depression.

“I figured we had one year to go before bankruptcy. When you face something like this, you realise something happens inside you. My soul searched and I realised the evils of the industry, which needed correction if I was to stay in business. I listed the following problems in the furniture industry:

  • Four markets a year.
  • Short-lived designs and the buyer’s first question: What’s new?
  • Closeouts had to be sold, at up to fifty per cent off.
  • Commission salesmen. Some had seven or eight lines and sold what was easiest to sell. They showed only what they thought were the very best values, travelled only when they wanted to travel.
  • Stores took over. We were only a fabricator, with no business identity or plans.
  • We had no opportunity for repetitive manufacturing.
  • There was no contact with the ultimate user of the product.
  • Low wages. Ignoring the ideas of people. Tough attitude towards labour. Responding tough attitude towards management.
  • Up and down schedules as a result of all this, with layoffs on short notice, uncertain hours, short hours and short paychecks.” 

Amazing stuff, written three-quarters of a century ago.And I thought to myself, is this a manifesto-in-reverse for the Intention Economy and Vendor Relationship Management, as  evinced by Doc et al? Is this a manifesto-in-reverse for those firms that seek to make something of themselves in years to come?
I wonder.

Let me know what you think

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