La-Z-Boy CEO Kurt Darrow: Growing our Business in Michigan

February 18, 2013

in Economic Development,Great Companies

La-Z-Boy, one of the world’s leading residential furniture producers, has been headquartered in Monroe, Michigan since the company was started 85 years ago. Recently, the company announced plans to invest $47 million in a new world headquarters.  With support from the state’s Michigan Business Development Program, the project will enable the company to keep its roots in Monroe and add 50 new jobs.

We asked Kurt Darrow, La-Z-Boy President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, to share with us why Michigan is a great state for the company and its employees and their plans going forward.

Give us some background on yourself and La-Z-Boy.

I joined La-Z-Boy more than 30 years ago.  I started with the company in 1979 as the Western Regional Sales Manager and held various positions throughout the corporation, including Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing and President of the company’s Residential Division.  I was named President and Chief Executive Officer in 2003 and added the role of Chairman in 2011.

La-Z-Boy is one of the world’s leading residential furniture producers. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and had 2012 fiscal revenues of $1.2 billion. We have approximately 8,200 employees, with approximately 7,700 working in our 10 North American facilities — nine of which are based in the U.S.; the 10th in Mexico.  The company also owns 97 of the 317 La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries® stores in the U.S. and Canada.

How was La-Z- Boy started and how did it grow?

La-Z-Boy was founded by two young cousins — Edward Knabusch and Edwin Shoemaker — in Monroe, Michigan, in 1927. Their innovative spirit, which has remained with the company throughout its 85-year history, led them to borrow money from friends and family and embark on a new business venture and form the company that is known today as La-Z-Boy Incorporated.  From a reclining wood-slat chair to a full line of upholstered stationary and motion furniture, La-Z-Boy markets furniture for every room in the home. We are an iconic American brand and our vision is based on providing furniture that allows people to “Live life comfortably.”

We have been in our present corporate headquarters for 85 years and look forward to moving into a more modern and eco-friendly building reflective of who we are today. We are confident that it will reflect our evolving image as a global company, providing an environment that fosters creativity, collaboration and ongoing innovation.  We plan to break ground and begin construction at the new Monroe location this spring and are committed to developing a LEED-certified building utilizing sustainable building practices.

Explain why you choose to keep La-Z-Boy headquartered in Michigan.

Our company has its roots in Michigan and although our manufacturing, distribution and retail facilities span across North America our corporate headquarters has always been in Monroe, Michigan.  We have a talented group of approximately 500 individuals working at this location who continue to employ the values instilled by our founders – integrity, a focus on family and the community, and the intense commitment to always do the right thing.  These values, when paired with innovation, customer focus, operational excellence and brand strength, have enabled La-Z-Boy to endure some exceedingly difficult times and led us to our current solid leadership position within the industry. We look forward to continuing to grow our company and expand our employee base here.

What do you see as the assets that Michigan has to offer business owners and companies?

The individuals in our community are hardworking people dedicated to helping the state in its recovery efforts. Importantly, we have leadership, notably Governor Snyder and his team, committed to working with businesses to create opportunities and keep jobs within the State.

Why do you think Michigan is a good place to live and work – for you and for your employees?

Michigan is a beautiful state in which to live, providing its residents with great quality of life. We have wonderful natural resources and a lot to look forward to as the state goes through a “reinvention” of sorts after a difficult period from a macroeconomic standpoint. The auto industry continues to regain strength and Michigan is home to many other formidable industries. Together, we are rebuilding our great state. Part of this is supporting those communities where we have operations, including in Monroe, and we are proud of our many contributions and know that our founders would be as well.

La-Z-Boy was the recent recipient of economic development support through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.  How will this impact your company?

The support will help to facilitate the construction of La-Z-Boy’s new world headquarters in Monroe.  The new headquarters building will be between 150,000 and 200,000 square feet and is expected to cost approximately $50 million. The project will retain the nearly 500 employees that currently work at the headquarters and will involve the hiring of 50 new full time employees in Monroe over the next few years.  The new landmark headquarters building and campus will better showcase our company and brand globally and will provide a more comfortable and efficient workplace for our employees.  We also expect the new headquarters to better allow us to attract the brightest and best talent to La-Z-Boy and to Southeast Michigan.  In addition, we anticipate a significant increase in the number of visits from suppliers, customers, and other visitors from around the globe.

How did you become aware of the resources available to the company and what was the benefit of working with the MEDC?

Due to the age and condition of our current facility, we had been discussing the potential of renovating our current building for over five years. When we began to consider constructing a new building, we contacted the MEDC and the City of Monroe. The project represented a major undertaking for the company; the site that we ultimately selected presented a unique set of infrastructure and other needs.  Resolving these issues required careful coordination with numerous state agencies, as well as Monroe County, the City of Monroe, and Frenchtown Charter Township. The MEDC, working closely with the City, Township and County, was quickly able to assemble a very creative deal that addressed our needs and allowed us to make a decision about the facility in time to break ground this spring.

What types of jobs are you looking to fill and what do you look for when recruiting talent? 

We are looking to fill positions in a variety of job categories.  Key areas include management, professional and technical positions.  We look for candidates with high energy and accountability who are innovative, strategic thinkers able to work in a collaborative environment.

What is next for La-Z-Boy?

We are thrilled to be moving our corporate headquarters to a new location in Monroe and are delighted to remain in the State of Michigan, where our heritage has been since the inception of our company.

La-Z-Boy is an iconic American brand built on a foundation of innovation and we look forward to continuing to grow our company, increasing the number of La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries® stores, increasing our market share and expanding our reach globally, all while adhering to the principles upon which our company was found.

The La-Z-Boy brand is the most powerful name in the furniture industry, we have great people making quality products in America and we see a lifetime of opportunities ahead of us – at least for the next 85 years.

 

Kurt L. Darrow is the President, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of La-Z-Boy Incorporated, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company with fiscal 2012 revenues of $1.2 billion.  A seasoned executive, with industry experience spanning more than 30 years, Mr. Darrow has gained prominence throughout the home furnishings sector, serving in numerous high-level industry capacities, including as Chairman of the American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) in 2008. 

Mr. Darrow is best known for his nine-year tenure as CEO of La-Z-Boy Incorporated, where he has been heralded by Wall Street as a turnaround specialist.  Under his leadership, the company’s operating platforms were transformed, fueling enhanced efficiencies and industry-leading performance throughout the past few years against a challenging macroeconomic backdrop.  He was named Chairman of the company in 2011.

Are you an entrepreneur or business leader in Michigan and want to share your success story or tell how Michigan has helped your business grow? Share your story on the Michigan Advantage blog! Learn more about being a guest blogger.

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