Gerrard Wendell (G.W.) Haworth, the founding chairman of Haworth, Inc., died today at age 95. An influential entrepreneur, he established Haworth, Inc., a manufacturer of office environments that grew from a garage-shop venture in 1948 to a $1.4 billion, global corporation.
Recognized in 1993 as Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Michigan Business School, Haworth was a pioneer in the office furniture industry, whose garage-shop venture became a global corporation.
“My father was a distinguished business leader, but more importantly, a great man,” said Richard Haworth. “He followed his natural instincts as a thinker and a teacher. His philosophy of satisfying customers and his high regard for people and their skills are still the core values of our company.”
G.W. was known for his wit, generosity and steadfast determination. “You can risk doing nothing, or you can risk doing something. Life’s a fifty-fifty proposition. I can confidently say that doing nothing is the greater risk,” G.W. was once quoted as saying.
Haworth was a patriarch of the company and beloved by the members of Haworth who knew him. One of the keys to his success was his passionate devotion to serving his customers. He often told associates that the surest sign of success is not the first sale to a customer, but the second. They know what to expect by that time, and if they choose you again, you know you are serving them well.
At age 93, he still came to work three or four days a week, but eventually deferred to his wife Edna in the spring of 2005, who requested he remain closer to home to spend more time with his family.
A former high school teacher, Haworth maintained a life-long passion for education. He promoted continuing education to company members (employees) through reimbursement programs and scholarships. Notable contributions went to Western Michigan University and Hope College, each receiving multi-million dollar endowments from Haworth, Inc. and the Haworth family.
“G. W. Haworth is a role model for all of our students,” noted Darrell G. Jones, Professor Emeritus of Western Michigan University’s Business Information Systems. “An entrepreneur who started with little, he exemplified how intelligence, honesty, and integrity can find opportunities in our society.”
Born in Alliance, Nebraska, in 1911, Haworth and his family moved to Michigan when he was in high school. Upon graduating in 1937 with a B.A. in Education from Western Michigan University, Haworth moved to Holland to teach industrial arts at Holland High School. In 1940, he earned a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration from The University of Michigan.
In the 1940s Haworth began to build special-order wood products as a sideline enterprise; this eventually led to the formation of a company that has ranked among the 400 largest private companies in the U.S., according to Forbes magazine. His son, Richard Haworth, who has led the company since 1976 and now serves as Chairman, is credited as the visionary who grew the company to a global corporation and for revolutionizing the office furniture industry with the invention of the pre-wired office furniture panel.
G.W. Haworth was a recipient of Western Michigan University’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1986 and awarded an honorary Doctorate degree from the Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids in 1987. In addition to being named Entrepreneur of the Year by the University of Michigan Business School, Haworth was named as Manufacturer of the Year by the Michigan Manufacturers Association in 1995.
Haworth is survived by his wife, Edna, and five children, Lois Lamb, Richard Haworth, Joan Abbett, Julie Falconer and Mary Schregardus, 19 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
Haworth Inc. is a leader in the design and manufacture of adaptable workspaces, including raised access floors, moveable walls, systems furniture, seating, storage, and wood casegoods. Family-owned and privately held, Haworth is headquartered in Holland, Michigan, and serves markets in more than 120 countries though a global network of 600 dealers.