On July 19, 2023, The US Center for Advanced Manufacturing hosted a leadership roundtable and tour of Steelcase Grand Rapids. During the tour, attendees witnessed the furniture maker’s manufacturing operations, showcasing an innovation lab and wood furniture production center.
Steelcase CEO Sara Armbruster and US Center for Advanced Manufacturing CEO Cynthia Hutchison opened the event with a fireside chat on adapting through the pandemic, the power of a changed mindset, and creating a workplace of the future. Armbruster would later host a roundtable on leadership. As the executive leader of the centennial company, Armbruster leads a team of over 2,000 employees in Grand Rapids, ranging from designers to communicators, researchers to marketers, innovators to engineers. Under her leadership in 2023 alone, Steelcase was named to Fortune’s 2023 World’s Most Admired Companies list and received a U.S. Department of Energy Better Plants Award.
However, Armbruster was far from the only woman CEO in the room. Each attendee of the event was a woman executive in industry, prompting the discussion of how major sectors of the economy are changing culturally with women in leadership.
Studies show women-led businesses have been found to be more innovative and perform better than their male counterparts. Furthermore, women-owned firms continue to grow at double the rate of all other firms, contributing nearly $3 trillion to the U.S. economy and 23 million jobs.
Also, as a unique component of leadership, women tend to score higher with cognitive empathy, which can lead to better relationships with employees.
Demonstrating this leadership expertise in the workforce, Armbruster presented how Steelcase leads its employees and pursues its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals. Here are the key takeaways from the event:
Employee Wellness and Environmental Responsibility
- In line with its commitment to employee wellbeing and environmental responsibility, Steelcase has adopted the eco-friendly transportation options within the plant, such as biking, to replace conventional forklifts.
- Demonstrating a dedication to sustainability, Steelcase takes pride in its distinction as one of the pioneering 100% water-based manufacturing plants in the industry.
Natural Lighting and Waste Reduction
- Abundant natural light permeates the plant through thoughtfully designed windows and skylights, providing a cheerful and energy -efficient work environment.
- In the pursuit of sustainable practices, the company sources veneer from certified organizations and operates a state-of-the-art dehumidified machine center, preserving valuable resources and minimizing ecological impact.
- A strategic transformation to a lean plant infrastructure characterizes the evolution of Steelcase's Grand Rapids Wood factory, further accentuating its commitment to waste reduction.
Employee Training and Engagement
- Steelcase is dedicated to fostering employee excellence by implementing a comprehensive training program, including a year-long job-shadowing process, ensuring a profound understanding of production.
- Encouraging a culture of engagement, leaders actively oversee employee activities and workflow within their respective sectors, cultivating a collaborative and motivated work environment.
- Acknowledging and incentivizing employee contributions, the company rewards and compensates individuals for their valuable suggestions and innovative ideas, optimizing the plant's operational efficacy to its fullest potential.
Sustainable Packaging System
- Introducing Steelcase's innovative packaging system, which facilitates table placement and secure sealing, leading to a substantial reduction in waste and a commendable advancement in sustainable practices.
- The company actively advocates the return and reuse of packaging materials, thus manifesting its commitment to minimizing environmental impact and fostering a circular economy.
- Enhanced employee well-being and safety take precedence with the implementation of adjustable benches and suction lifters, effectively mitigating the risk of back pains, a leading factor in past safety incidents.
As the US Center for Advanced Manufacturing continues its national mission of supporting a sustainable, innovative, and inclusive industry, more roundtables and tours will follow. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on next generational leadership if interested in attending.