C-change is sea change: Recent executive moves reflect transitioning furniture industry | Bill McLoughlin

It’s been a busy month on the personnel front, with several major home furnishings companies announcing C-level hires, retirements or reassignments. While the number of moves in such a short period is eye-catching, it’s a reflection of larger transitional changes taking place across the furniture industry and, to some extent, in society at large.

For most of the past decade, the furniture business has been defined by the experience of its leadership, much of it consisting of Baby Boomers or Greatest Generation executives who built companies, grew businesses and carved their own mark on the industry. In the aftermath of the pandemic, however, a new generation has been moving into positions of authority with increasing rapidity.

You’ve seen it at retail where several family-run retail dynasties have begun passing the reins to the next generation. And you’re seeing it across the manufacturer and supplier segments where venerable leaders are passing the torch. Of course, not all the recent realignments are generational, just as the changes impacting the business are not solely the result of demographic shifts.

Home furnishings, like myriad other businesses, is undergoing seismic shifts. Everything from buyer-seller relationships to consumer purchase behavior and lifestyles are being redefined by technology and the consumer’s relationship to it. As a result, companies are reevaluating their business models and the people they select to manage them.

This is not to say that the personnel changes of the past few weeks are the specific result of macro changes occurring in business or society at large. They never are. In each instance, companies assess their individual situation and make the changes they believe best position them for success.

It is only in understanding the context in which these changes occur that the bigger picture comes into focus. And that context is one of rapid, widespread and fundamental change. The nature of communication today bears little or no resemblance to that understood by a previous generation of leaders.

The Internet and the smartphone have fundamentally altered consumer lifestyles and democratized communication to such an extent that the only barrier to entry in today’s marketplace is the understanding of how to use the technology. Savvy entrepreneurs with technological acumen and some social skill can open their own “store” in the time it takes to set up an Instagram account or launch a website.

The ability of a manufacturing company to reach the consumer no longer requires an intermediary. Those who thought the D2C wave crested when the first big mattress players started opening or chasing stores have underestimated the impact of generational change on shopping behavior.

The next generation of leaders stepping into these roles will face challenges and, yes, opportunities, the likes of which their predecessors never dreamed. As you continue to watch the next wave of C-suite shifts — and make no mistake there will be more — pay close attention to the skill sets, experiences and connections of those filling the seats.

The C-changes will be shaped by the sea change.

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