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MillerKnoll CEO apologizes to workers for 'pity city' rant

The Detroit News

The head of a high-end office furniture company in Michigan has apologized after outcry over a viral video in which she told workers worried about not receiving bonuses to "leave pity city."

MillerKnoll President and CEO Andi Owen's comments during a virtual meeting didn't begin with even a hint of controversy. Instead, they started as a pep talk for employees. But her words sparked outrage online, when shortly into the minute-long clip circulating on social media, the talk seemed to take a turn.

Owen first said employees should concentrate on customer service and moving "orders out our door ... It's not good to be in the situation we’re in today. but we’re not going to be here forever."

She then raised her voice and became more animated, punching her finger in the air while discussing bonuses.

"Don’t ask about what are we going to do if we don’t get a bonus,” Owen was recorded as saying. “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 we don’t get a bonus.”

She added: “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.”

The meeting was held in March, MLive.com reported.

Owen said during the recording that she was addressing employee concerns about remaining motivated when not receiving bonuses while working to meet the company's sales goal.

According to its report for the third quarter that ended March 4, sales declined 4.4% and orders were 19.2% lower.

Owen has served as president and chief executive officer of MillerKnoll since 2018, according to the company website. It describes the firm, which has about 11,000 employees and locations in west Michigan, as "a collective of dynamic brands that comes together to design the world we live in," including Herman Miller.

The remarks garnered attention this week from media outlets including CNN, the Wall Street Journal and CBS News.

She received a barrage of criticism on social media, some pointing out that a MillerKnoll proxy statement showed Owen earned a $1.1 million salary as well as $3.9 million in other compensation, including a bonus, during the 2022 fiscal year.

Owen apologized after media coverage grew Tuesday in an email to employees, MLive.com reported.

“I want to be transparent and empathetic, and as I continue to reflect on this instance, I feel terrible that my rallying cry seemed insensitive,” she said, according to the media outlet. “What I’d hoped would energize the team to meet a challenge we’ve met many times before landed in a way that I did not intend and for that I am sorry.”

MillerKnoll representatives did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.