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Merchants of Virtue: Herman Miller and the Making of a Sustainable Company

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0230106604
ISBN-10: 0230106609
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Editorial Reviews


"Herman Miller has shown extraordinary leadership as a catalyst for industry. Its sustainability strategies for architecture, buildings, and furniture set a standard we feel honored to have helped shape and spread to others. This book tells the story of how Herman Miller charted an innovative path, and shows the temerity of its people to stay on that path." --William McDonough, designer and co-author of Cradle to Cradle

"Merchants of Virtue is a business story for our times. An AMERICAN story, of risk taking, vision, values, and pluck. Before all the management fashions of our era -- TQM, design thinking, zero footprint, values statements -- there was Herman Miller. Let Bill Birchard show you how this Midwest manufacturer led the way to sustainability, and wash away a grinding decade of cynicism and greed." --Judith Samuelson, Executive Director, Business and Society Program, The Aspen Institute

“Bill Birchard’s excellent chronicle of the Herman Miller story brings to light some critical lessons for any company focused on embedding sustainability in it’s core strategy:  Never give in to compromise solutions; seek to shatter apparent trade-offs; draw from the wellspring of enduring corporate values; and challenge people in the company to take personal responsibility.  Perhaps most importantly, Merchants of Virtue shows us that the pursuit of corporate sustainability is not easy.  Like anything worth pursuing, only the creative and committed will succeed.”  —Stuart L. Hart, S. C. Johnson Chair in Sustainable Global Enterprise, Cornell University and Author of Capitalism at the Crossroads

“In Merchants of Virtue the author shows that innovation at Herman Miller extends well beyond new product development, training and developing people. It was no surprise to me that they implemented the EVA Management System right down to the shop floor even on Day One.  This insightful story about their journey with business sustainability efforts puts them  up there with the other cutting edge organizations.”  —Joel M. Stern, Chairman and CEO, Stern Stewart & Co. and, Stern Stewart Capital Partners

“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.” --Library Journal

About the Author

Bill Birchard is a writer, author, and journalist. He has been writing books and articles for over 25 years. Since the mid-1980s, he has written about management, the environment, and self help. He was formerly editor of Enterprise, a magazine for executives. Since the 1990s, he has written for Fast Company, CFO, Chief Executive, Strategy + Business, and other magazines.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (August 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230106609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230106604
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,952,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The author has gone into great depths to cover the details of how Herman Miller Inc. has grew to champion the global design leadership in furniture business. The book reveals many anecdotes that had not been available in previous publications regarding Herman Miller, and I deeply appreciate that.

There is just one thing that is quite disturbing with Kindle edition of this otherwise fine book. Perhaps by some technical oversight, the ligatures in the text are converted to something else. That is, "fi" is shown as "A" and "fl" as "U" within Kindle text. For instance, what should be "first" is shown as "A rst", and "flow" as "U ow". These errors, like road bumps, are significantly slowing down my reading.

I am wondering if Kindle updates its files automatically when revision is made available.

That issue aside, Merchants of Virtue is an excellent book for those who wishes to learn historical background that shaped Herman Miller to become one of the most venerable companies in the world in terms of sustainable practices and design leadership.
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Format: Hardcover
Herman Miller is an earnest and excellent company. When you sit in an Aeron chair you feel the care that goes into their design right into your backbone. I know because I have a bum back.

Even anti-corporates have found it hard over the years to find fault with a company that takes its ethics and its customers as seriously as Herman Miller does.

What Bill Birchard does exceptionally well in Merchants of Virtue is to paint compelling portraits of the people who are Herman Miller. Leaving the arguments of whether companies are people or not to the pope and the supreme court, Birchard, a master story teller, breathes life into the emerging principles of sustainable management. The dialogues and debates on corporate social responsibility are now close to 30 plus years old. To journalists like myself and Bill Birchard, the aphorisms are broken records. But that doesn't mean the message doesn't need to be conveyed over and over again. The Merchants of Virtue is a book about the journey and the destination. It will help executives peer into the minds of their peers to see the highs and lows, grit and grace, and missteps and mistakes that are the reality of running a company for the long-term in the near-sighted markets we live with today.

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"The idea that underlies our notion of inclusive capitalism, they say, is the need to manage companies for the long term.
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Format: Hardcover
Merchants of Virtue should be required reading for every undergraduate business major and MBA student. Birchard's detailed account of how the Herman Miller company came to be is an inspiring template for building a twenty-first century business that is good for the planet and good for people.
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Format: Hardcover
Birchard has written an extraordinary story...extremely well written and meticulously researched. I say story because his account of the evolution of the Herman Miller Company's manufacturing and the company's cast of characters from past to present reads like a novel. Enormously informative-hard to put down.

In a climate rife with the perception of white collar corruption and sinking morale this book should inspire. Michael Moore in his recent film Capitalism, A Love Story, makes a strong case against capitalism- a force for greed, avarice, and evil and he backs it up with many compelling examples. Birchard's book clearly shows that capitalism in the right hands can be a force for just the opposite- generosity, kindness, and a commitment to doing the right thing again and again.

How do you build a supremely successful company while engaging in the extremely complex restructuring required over and over again to keep pace with the changing times? How do you do this while never abandoning the original, core personal values of it's founder even though that would have been far easier, safer, and in the short term more profitable. How do you never give into that temptation?

Values, not profit, were the foundation and they ultimately shaped the Herman Miller destiny. On the TV series Bonanza the good guys always win. They do here too. Fascinating read. The story begins in 1923.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is excellent. It is clear, well-written, and honest. An an employee, I feel like I had a front row seat to much of what Birchard writes about and I also learned new things from his book. I recommend this read!

Dr. Tracy Brower, author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations
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