Don’t Live in ‘Pity City,’ Office Chair Magnate Tells Employees Who Want Money

MillerKnoll says a video of CEO Andi Owen telling employees to stop "thinking about what you’re going to do if you don’t get a bonus" was taken "out of context."
(Photo credit: YouTube)

The CEO of an office furniture giant lambasted employees in a March town hall that has since circulated online, telling them to “leave pity city” after she was asked how people could help their teams “stay motivated” during a difficult moment for the company and the broader industry.  

At the end of a 75-minute town hall, MillerKnoll CEO and president Andi Owen was asked the question, "While things are tough right now, how can we help our teams stay motivated?” according to a longer version of the video meeting reviewed by Motherboard.


Owen used the moment to respond more broadly to questions she had recently—some of which were “not so nice,” she said—related to motivation and—so she said—company bonuses.

Owen started calmly, telling workers to focus on what was within their control, like high-quality customer service and treating one another with kindness and respect. 

Quickly, however, Owen’s tone changed as she became visibly agitated and started waving her hand in the air as she spoke. 

“Don't ask about: What are we going to do if we don’t get a bonus?” she asked. “Get the damn $26 million. Spend your time and your effort thinking about the $26 million we need and not thinking about what you’re going to do if you don’t get a bonus. Alright? Can I get some commitment for that?” Then, she whispered for emphasis: “I would appreciate that.” (The $26 million is an internal metric that the company was unwilling to discuss publicly.)

She then continued by quoting the advice of a former manager.

“I had an old boss who said to me one time, ‘You can visit pity city, but you can’t live there.’ So people, leave pity city. Let’s get it done,” she said before wishing people a great day.

The comment, which came at the end of a meeting in which Owen discussed the industry changes, upcoming product launches, brand marketing campaigns, and so on, angered some employees, and Owen later sent a message to associates and met with leaders at the company as a result. 


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MillerKnoll’s fiscal year has not yet ended, and bonus decisions have not yet been decided, including for Owen. Nevertheless, the clip was soon enough circulated online, leading to public anger. A company representative said that the clip does not show the full context of what she described as a largely positive meeting. 

“Andi fiercely believes in this team and all we can accomplish together, and will not be dissuaded by a 90-second clip taken out of context and posted on social media,” MillerKnoll spokesperson Kris Marubio told Motherboard.

MillerKnoll, an office chair company that makes some of the most well-regarded chairs in the country, including the Aeron, Mirra, and Eames lounge chairs, has struggled with a decline in demand since the pandemic as companies began to more permanently embrace the hybrid work model, making them less prone to shell out for hundreds of brand new high-end office chairs. “‘Traditional office usage and layouts are not as relevant as they once were,” Owen said in a March earnings call. Companies who reduced the size of their office footprint flooded the secondary market with cheaper, second-hand products, only further reducing demand. 

This has led to  “a period of disruption,” as MillerKnoll itself recently put it, which led Herman Miller to acquire Knoll, one of its top competitors, in 2021 for $1.8 billion and form newly created MillerKnoll to better weather the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Knoll’s then-CEO stepped down as a result of the transaction, placing Owen, then CEO of Herman Miller, in charge of the newly formed furniture giant. 

Since then, Owen has tried to cut costs in a variety of ways as the share price plunged—the company announced earlier this month that it would close a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin and lay off 162 employees—and otherwise shifted its focus to  “more hybrid, collaborative work environments” and online sales. 

For her work, Owen received bonuses of $1.29 million last year and $1.12 million in 2021. 

This post has been updated to include the question Owen was responding to. Motherboard was able to review a longer version of the video that included the question after this story was initially published.