New strategy uses ‘big bets’ to transform Kimball

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — Six years after spinning off Kimball Electronics and going all in to the furniture industry, Kimball International has launched a big shift that will lead to the next chapter of the Jasper-based company’s story.

Guided by a “Connect” corporate strategy, it’s a chapter that Kimball International leadership sees being marked by inspiring its employees, building its capacities, fueling its future and accelerating its growth through bold and daring decisions that keep it competitive.

“I will say that the opportunities are endless for Kimball International,” said Koorosh Sharghi, the company’s executive vice president of strategy and transformation. “And I think that if I was to sum up the vision for Kimball International, and the evolution of Connect, and what it will deliver: It’ll deliver a connected, unified company that’s got three distinct business units with their own identity in the marketplace, with a core foundation that is best in class and supports those three business units endlessly.”

According to a press release, for more than 65 years, Kimball International has created design-driven furnishings that have helped customers shape spaces into places, bringing possibility to life by enabling collaboration, discovery, wellness and relaxation.

The company’s brands include Kimball, National, Kimball Hospitality, David Edward and D’style by Kimball Hospitality. It has four Jasper-based manufacturing operations: National Furniture on 11th Avenue, a Kimball Office on 15th Street and one on Cherry Street, and Kimball Hospitality on 16th Street.

In fiscal 2019, Kimball International generated $768 million in revenue and employed over 3,000 people.

The Connect strategy was rolled out across the company in May. Sharghi explained that the change was prompted by financial statements, a shift in the company’s sales and profitability.

He said the company began looking into the necessary transformation prior to his arrival about a year ago, which laid out the framework for the path Kimball International will take into the future.

To get on that path, the company recognized that it needed to make changes.

“Ultimately, what those changes translated to was that we needed to grow our business through big and bold and daring initiatives,” Sharghi said. “In the commercial side of our business and in our business units. But then we needed to fund those big, bold initiatives, which we call our big bets.”

The future planning initiative evolved into Connect, which places an emphasis on taking cost out, increasing revenue, centralizing structure and building capabilities. It connects the brands under an umbrella and highlights big bets that focus on broadening the company’s product offerings and assortment, which will allow Kimball International to expand its reach in the market and drum up new business.

“And it’s not to replace our core business,” said Greg Meunier, executive vice president of global operations at the company. “It’s to stay strong to our core.”

Lonnie Nicholson, chief human resources officer, explained that after spinning off Kimball Electronics, the new Kimball International went through a financial turnaround period.

“But then, the next iteration of that was to grow the furniture business,” he explained. “That’s where the transformation became an important part. Because in order to grow, we needed to make those investments and make the changes necessary. So, Connect became a transformation and growth strategy.”

One change that has taken place is aimed at bringing a heightened level of connectivity to the company and fostering employee growth. Meunier explained that Kimball International will remain brand-specific as it pushes ahead, but operations and the company’s supply chain have been consolidated to leverage spending and talent.

Employees can now easily be moved across those brands — enabling the company to position them as needed as demand fluctuates. Nicholson said employee growth will be emphasized under the Connect strategy through training and development.

By driving efficiencies and finding dollars, more money will be invested back in the business — which generates excitement and inspires people to grow, he added.

“We’ve made big, bold moves in the past,” Nicholson said of the storied company’s evolution. “It was just part of the ethos. So, the ‘Dare to be Makers of Possibility’ was what we latched on to, to the purpose. And built the Connect strategy on that solid foundation.”

He continued: “That we were going to take big, bold bets and moves to grow and transform this company. And stand the test of time, and continue to evolve.”




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