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Herman Miller, Inc.

From LIbrary Journal, August 2011


Birchard, Bill. Merchants of Virtue: Herman Miller and the Making of a Sustainable Company.Palgrave Macmillan. Sept. 2011. c.256p. index. ISBN 9780230106604. $28. BUS 
Herman Miller is best known for its iconic office furniture, which graces the galleries of the world’s modern art museums. But business journalist and former Enterprise magazine editor Birchard reveals a lesser-known side of the company: long before environmentalism was trendy in big business, founder D.J. De Pree committed Herman Miller to environmental stewardship. Though his contemporaries may have thought he was off his rocker, his environmental initiatives were no less visionary than his hiring of brilliant designers like Gilbert Rohde and Charles Eames. Herman Miller’s story reads like a lexicon of nearly every business buzzword of the last half-century: participative management (starting in the 1950s), lean manufacturing (taught by a Toyota guru), sustainability, economic value added, financial literacy of employees, and a dozen other concepts pioneered by this company. Along the way, the firm garnered accolades as a leader in the corporate environmental and social responsibility movements.VERDICT While manufacturing may be a dying art in the United States, this book illustrates how one company can do well by its shareholders, employees, society, and the environment—and still turn heads with its products. Herman Miller’s sustainable sojourn is a remarkable story, capably told.—Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin Libs., Whitewater