Ex-Herman Miller CEO, author Max De Pree dies at 92

An undated courtesy photo of Max De Pree.


HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, author and well-known civic leader, has died.

De Pree died Tuesday at the age of 92, according to his obituary. He was survived by his wife, two sons, two daughters, 23 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

He was the CEO of Herman Miller at a time when the company saw exponential growth. De Pree joined the company his father founded in 1947 — after military service in World War II — and became CEO in 1980.

“Max led the company through its greatest growth period probably in the company’s history, and I think his great gift was that he created a culture that enabled the company to grow at that kind of rate,” current Herman Miller CEO and President Brian Walker said.

According to his obituary, the company nearly tripled its sales under De Pree’s leadership and was frequently cited as “most admired” by Fortune magazine as a good place to work.

With works including “Leadership is an Art” and “Leadership Jazz,” De Pree was also a distinguished author with more than a million books sold worldwide.

“It’s often that I run into other CEOs that have studied his books even taken classes on his work,” Walker said.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra worked under De Pree’s leadership at Herman Miller for years.

“He coined the term ‘servant leadership,’” Hoekstra said live on Daybreak Wednesday. “That as a leader, you had a responsibility to the people that you led. That each of those individuals were created in the image of God and it was your job as a leader to make sure that the skills and the gifts that every employee had could flourish at Herman Miller.”

Hoekstra described De Pree’s “pleasant and wonderful” demeanor and said that will be a major part of the legacy he leaves behind.

He said that the Zeeland native was still a mentor to many and constantly sharing advice and words of encouragement.

“It will be a tremendous loss,” Hoekstra said. “He’ll leave a wonderful legacy. You always hate to lose a leader, but you know that it will happen. But when you look at the legacy will be in the people that he mentored at Herman Miller.”

“I think Max taught us to be servants as leaders and that leaders are here to serve the people not the other way around, and he often put himself second to make sure the people are doing well,” Walker added.

Visitation will be held Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Third Reformed Church of Holland, located at 111 W. 13th St. Memorial contributions can be made to the Third Reformed Church’s affordable housing fund or the Fuller Theological Seminary’s student scholarship fund.

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Herman Miller: Max De Pree