Ron Johnson is not only POE's President, but a strategic visionary with a passion for design. After the 30th year celebration, I had the honor to sit down with Ron and discuss his design roots and industry insights.
C: Good Morning Ron! You’ve been in the design industry for over 30 years. Tell us a little about your extensive background. What originally sparked your passion for design?
R: My passion for design began as a kid. I always loved to draw and visualize in 3D. In fact, in 5th grade, I drew and then built a life-sized treehouse complete with a gabled roof and shingles! However, it wasn’t until high school that I took my first architecture class and knew I was destined for it.
C: When did you first hear about POE? What were your first impressions 25 years ago?
R: In 1997, I first encountered POE during an intermarket project. At the time, I was working at Interior Space (now Arcturis). We were working on a 100,000 sq. ft. interior for MCI. During that project we used Haworth Premise. The serendipitous part of it all was that Interior Space’s office had Haworth UniGroup workstations and the growth of both organizations was tied to the AT&T/Southwestern Bell split in the early 90s.
C: Through the years, prior to joining POE, how have you seen POE develop?
R: In 2004, Haworth began to embrace more of a design point of view. When they began embracing the Integrated Palette, that’s when things really started to change.
C: Tell us how you joined the POE team. What were the motivators.
R: I had a great partnership with Arcturis but was at the point of my career when I realized I needed a change. After free-lancing for a few months, I received a call from Larry asking for help with POE’s new Maryland Heights headquarters. I agreed and worked as an on-site consultant for 8 weeks to help conceptualize how the design of their new space translated into business. Once complete, it wasn’t until 2 years later that Larry reached back out to see if I could head up POE’s Workplace Strategy. Strangely enough, I felt a certain unexplained calling to do this and I’m glad that I did.
C: Describe why POE is much more than a furniture dealer.
R: Anyone can provide objects. It takes hard work to focus on how to develop the best solution for people. At POE, we invest in our approach to arrive at a better destination.
C: Culture is a big topic. Tell us about your goals when looking at POE’s culture. How have you seen it develop around POE’s mission: discover what impacts people?
R: There’s a lot in that question. Looking back to our distilled mission statement, the culture has gotten simpler to understand. Everything we have done to get to this point, from our open book management policy to Traction coaching, has helped us move forward. Culture is the invisible attitudes, values, and beliefs that run a business. When we shifted from a departmental to team approach, it has allowed us to work at the speed of business today.
C: What about this industry most excites you?
R: After working in this industry for decades, you begin to figure out where your impact matters most. It’s more about the impact we can make on people versus the objects we procure. Design thinking has a huge impact on how a business can excel. Design isn’t just about ‘does it look pretty.’ Great design is handsome, but must perform. With the amount of data we have today, we can make it work better.
C: Looking back 30 years ago, what is the biggest change you have seen within this industry?
R: The impact of technology has been the biggest change. Today more than ever, there’s a blurring of what’s work and what’s not. Work hours aren’t 8-5 anymore, they can happen anywhere, at any time. Today, work is not the building you go to, but where the individual is. However, space is the hub that pulls people together.
C: Moving forward, what do you look forward to seeing 30 years from now?
R: In 30 years, my son Jack will be my age. That’s wild to think about. Hmm… I think basic human need will remain the same and I think part of history will repeat itself in some fashion, but I believe people will begin to simplify their life even more. With simplification, you’ll see sophistication and more synergy between industries with the lines blurring more.