Lifetime Achievement Awardee

Max De Pree

Max De Pree is best known for his work as CEO of Herman Miller, Inc. During his tenure, Herman Miller became one of the most profitable Fortune 500 companies. De Pree is credited with turning a small family-owned business into, what was at the time, the second largest furniture maker in the world. But, it wasn’t just the bottom line that concerned De Pree. Herman Miller is consistently recognized for its work in Corporate Social Responsibility, human rights, diversity, sustainability, and environmental stewardship. Among other awards, it has been named “Most Innovative”, “Most Admired”, “Best Managed,” and one of the “Best Companies to Work For” numerous times. De Pree’s contributions earned him a place in Fortune magazine’s National Business Hall of Fame.

De Pree always strove to be very intentional in allowing his beliefs (including his commitment to Christianity) to shape his approach to leadership. His books Leadership is an Art, Leadership Jazz, Leading without Power, Called to Serve, and Dear Zoe all communicate this about him and convey an integrated vision of life and work. His commitment to transparency and integrity contributed to Herman Miller’s ability to work with and champion such icons of mid-century modernism as Ray and Charles Eames, among others.

Notably, Herman Miller was the first company in Michigan to adopt the Scanlon Plan, a program of participative management and gain sharing. The Plan and its subsequent revisions is one of the hallmarks of the family’s covenantal (versus contractual) style of leadership with its employees.

Oral history is an excellent method for collecting and interpreting memories and fostering new knowledge. Dr. Phil Scarpino, past president of the National Council for Public History and Professor of History at IU, exhaustively researches each recipient prior to conducting his interviews and uses the highest standards prescribed by the American Oral History Association.

The Tobias Leadership Center focuses on research and programs related to the study of leadership across all sectors – including corporate, public service, education, religion, medicine, and non-profit organizations. Its focus on multiple sectors and on both the practice and theory of leadership distinguishes its agenda among leadership programs nationwide. Through ongoing research in a variety of sectors, it generates knowledge about leadership and disseminates this knowledge through a variety of programs.

Oral History with Max De Pree
View all oral histories here

Max De Pree receives the ILA Lifetime Achievement Award