Former Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree Dies at 92

Max De Pree. Image courtesy Herman Miller

Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller and a bestselling author, died on August 8 at age 92 at his home in Holland, Michigan. De Pree had cancer and kidney failure.

Max’s father D.J. De Pree purchased a small furniture company and renamed it The Herman Miller Furniture Company in 1923. Max DePree, one of D.J. De Pree’s three sons, joined the Michigan-based furniture manufacturer in 1947 and took leadership roles over the decades. He was elected chairman of the board at Herman Miller in 1971. Nine years later, he succeeded his brother Hugh as CEO. He continued in that role until 1987, and on the company’s board of directors until 1995.

As the last member of his family to lead the company, De Pree is credited with strengthening Herman Miller’s push in innovative and human-centered design. During his seven-year tenure as CEO, the company’s sales nearly tripled. Herman Miller was also regularly cited as a premiere place to work in the country, due in part to De Pree’s advocacy for innovative employee programs.

“Max was simply a wonderful and complete human being,” Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller, said in a statement. “Toward the end of his life, we had several conversations that connected us and passed along his family’s commitment to Herman Miller. He taught me many things—how to listen, how to ask questions, and above all the debt all leaders owe to the people they lead.”

De Pree was also well known for his books focused on leadership as service. His 1989 book, “Leadership Is an Art,” received critical acclaim. The book was described by the Washington Post as “small and soulful enough to be carried around like a prayer book—and in some respects, it is.”

In 1992, De Pree authored a second book on leadership, “Leadership Jazz,” which took its title from De Pree’s observation that “jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals.” De Pree was also author of the books “Dear Zoe,” “Leading Without Power,” and “Called to Serve.” De Pree’s books have sold more than one million copies and have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

He is survived by his wife Esther, sons Charles and Kris, daughters Jody and Nancy, 23 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.