'Pity City' CEO Sorry Her Comments 'Seemed Insensitive'

The MillerKnoll leader made her controversial statements during a March town hall
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2023 5:44 PM CDT
Updated Apr 20, 2023 10:30 AM CDT
UPDATE Apr 20, 2023 10:30 AM CDT

The MillerKnoll CEO who instructed employees who were worried about whether they'd be getting a bonus to "leave pity city" has apologized to her staff. MLive reports Andi Owen, who's been at the helm of the company since 2018, sent an email that read, in part: "As a leader, I try to always pick the right words and tone to inspire and motivate this incredible team. ... As I continue to reflect on this instance, I feel terrible that my rallying cry seemed insensitive. What I'd hoped would energize the team to meet a challenge we've met many times before landed in a way that I did not intend and for that I am sorry. ... Thank you for your hard work, your grace, and for the commitment you show to one another and our company every single day." Vice has the email in full.

Apr 18, 2023 5:44 PM CDT

In a March town hall meeting, Andi Owen, the CEO and president of office furniture giant MillerKnoll—which makes the Herman Miller chair—appeared to criticize employees, urging them to "leave pity city." Owen was responding to a question about keeping teams motivated during challenging times for the company and the broader industry, per Vice. Owen's response came during the final minutes of the 75-minute video town hall, and has since gained considerable attention online. Owen says in the video that she is addressing workers' questions about not receiving bonuses. She asks them to be nice and "respectful." As the town hall continues, however, Owen raises her voice and says workers need to focus on company goals and to stop asking questions about bonuses.

The video has received negative notice in part because as CBS reports, citing MillerKnoll's shareholder proxy statement, Owen was paid a $1.1 million salary in 2022 and reaped $3.9 million in additional pay, including stock benefits. Yet Owen tells employees to not "ask about what are we going to do if we don't get a bonus." She continues on to say they should spend their time and effort "thinking about the $26 million we need, and not thinking about what are we going to do if we don't get a bonus, alright? Can I get some commitment for that? I would appreciate that." The CEO, a former global president of Banana Republic, concludes by saying she had a former boss who told her, "You can visit pity city, but you can’t live there." Owen continues, "So people, leave pity city. Let’s get it done."

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CBS notes that a COVID-19 pandemic shift toward remote and hybrid work impacted MillerKnoll since it resulted in a drop in demand for luxury office furniture. Herman Miller acknowledged this "period of disruption" and in 2021 purchased rival Knoll in 2021 for $1.8 billion, believing that the combined MillerKnoll could better face pandemic-based challenges. Responding to Vice, company spokesperson Kris Marubio said the clip that went viral didn't give proper context, and the meeting was positive on the whole. “Andi fiercely believes in this team and all we can accomplish together," Marubio told Vice, "and will not be dissuaded by a 90-second clip taken out of context and posted on social media."
(More CEO stories.)

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