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Dick Haworth tells story of his family business

Thursday 4 November 2010

HOLLAND, Michegan - Industrial arts teacher G. W. Haworth started his namesake international office interiors manufacturer in a garage in 1948.
In just 60 years, Haworth Inc. has become a West Michigan stronghold, employing 7,500 people worldwide
But it wasn\'t easy. It took a lot of hard work, mistakes, risks and a family of entrepreneurs to get the company where it is today, said the founder\'s son, Dick Haworth, former company CEO and now chairman emeritus of the $1.1 billion business.
\"You can\'t start a business without making mistakes. The key is learning and moving forward, making the products better, learning your business and serving your customers,\" said Haworth, speaking to 150 business and community members for the start of the third annual Meijer Lecture Series at Hope College.
Haworth took over from his father as president and CEO of the company in 1975 at age 34, and ran it for the next 35 years. Today, it\'s run by Dick Haworth\'s son, Chairman Matthew Haworth, 42, who oversees the company\'s worldwide operations.
Started in 1948 as Modern Products Co., the company\'s original business was the design and building of retail furnishings, including display cases.
In 1958, Haworth Inc. struck it big when it teamed with salesman Ray Murdock, created a design and won the contract for movable office partitions for the new General Motors headquarters in Detroit. While that was a major launch for the business, innovations over the years grew it from a $400,000-a-year business in the early 1960s.
The company moved forward to catch up with office giants like Herman Miller and Steelcase with early adoption of what were then radical new business techniques like strategic planning, quality control circles and the recognition of a growing world market.
\"In 1988, we decided we had to expand our product lines and global reach and couldn\'t wait to develop them on our own, so we embarked on acquiring key companies that would give us coverage across North America and become a global organization,\" Dick Haworth said.
The firm is now looking beyond specific products to creating whole work environments for companies, Matthew Haworth said.
\"We\'ve become focused on creating sustainable and green building solutions for customers to create more energy-efficient, work-efficient work environments that are adaptable to changing future needs. That\'s part of our global mission now,\" he said.
The fact that Haworth, the former Prince Corp. and other Holland businesses have grown into global companies from humble means doesn\'t surprise Elton Bruins, a Van Raalte Institute research fellow and retired Hope College religion professor.
\"Holland was founded by an entrepreneur, Albertus Van Raalte. He was a religious leader but also knew you couldn\'t have a successful religious colony unless you encouraged businesses,\" said Bruins, noting Van Raalte was instrumental in creating the Holland Harbor channel and bringing the railroad to the city.

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