ZEELAND — Brian Walker will retire from Herman Miller Inc. by Aug. 31, ending a 29-year career at the office furniture manufacturer, including 14 years as president and CEO.
The company said Walker agreed to stay on as CEO and as a member of Herman Miller’s board of directors until the company finds a successor, according to a filing with federal securities regulators.
In a statement, Walker said the timing was right to transition the company to a next-generation leader.
“Over the past 10 years, we have been relentlessly focused on expanding our addressable market and developing the building blocks necessary to navigate the changes we predicted would impact the core office furniture marketplace,” Walker said. “Our Living Office strategy has repositioned the Company to lead in this new workplace era, and we have significantly expanded our potential for long-term growth by developing a strong global footprint and moving beyond the office to help people create inspiring places to heal, learn and live.
“Our global network of contract dealers, retail studios and e-commerce is unique and provides a significant competitive advantage. Today, Herman Miller comprises a group of leading brands united by our focus on innovation and human centered design.”
Executive Chairman Michael Volkema praised Walker’s executive leadership at the company.
“During Brian’s tenure, Herman Miller has become a lean enterprise that keeps its promises and strives to improve each and every day,” Volkema stated. “His deep commitment and remarkable leadership have enabled Herman Miller to become the global industry leader it is today.”
The board — with the help of Walker — has launched a CEO Search Committee and will tap an executive search firm to evaluate internal and external candidates.
Walker has been active in various West Michigan organizations, including Grand Rapids-based The Right Place Inc., where he currently serves as chair.
“For nearly three decades, Brian Walker has served as a business and community leader in West Michigan. His contributions to our Board of Directors and service as Board Chair have been invaluable,” Birgit Klohs, President and CEO of The Right Place, said in a statement to MiBiz. “I look forward to working with him over this next year as he completes his term as board chair, and wish him all the best in this next chapter of this life.”
According to a filing, Walker extended his post-employment noncompete and nonsolicitation agreements to an 18-month period. He also agreed to “an unlimited confidential information and non-disparagement covenant,” the company stated in the filing.
In return, Herman Miller said it will pay Walker his base salary following his retirement for a period of 18 months, as well as give him a payment to cover the employer portion of his health benefits package.
Additionally while reaffirming its sales guidance, Herman Miller (Nasdaq: MLHR) also said it expects to incur a charge of about $4 million related to changes in the federal tax code and other special charges in its present third quarter of its 2018 fiscal year.
Herman Miller expects net sales to range from $565 million to $585 million, with earnings per diluted share in the range of 38 cents to 42 cents. Excluding the charges, diluted earnings per share would be in the range of 48 cents to 52 cents.
News of Walker’s retirement comes just weeks after auto supplier Gentex Corp. (Nasdaq: GNTX) founder and long-time CEO Fred Bauer also retired, marking a period of executive transition at both publicly traded companies based in Zeeland.
According to Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens, both executives have left their mark on the broader Ottawa County business community.
“Both leaders had remarkably successful runs and steered their companies through periods of change and growth. We are extremely fortunate to have had leaders of their caliber leading two of our major employers,” Owens said in an email to MiBiz. “We wish them all the best as they begin the next chapters of their lives and thank them for the tremendous impact they have had on our community.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Birgit Klohs of The Right Place and Jennifer Owens of Lakeshore Advantage.