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Innovating Furnishing Business
NOVEMBER 2013 · 
Keywords: leadership, furnishing industry,innovation, China market

Ethan Allen's chairman shares the individual and corporate stories about how his company has gained from innovation thoughts and actions and restructured to expand its operations in emerging markets like China. In this video, FBK records his comments in his opening dialogue with President Josette Sheeran of Asia Society at the international conference, "Innovation 2013: From Silicon Valley to China", held in Tianjin on October 31, 2013.

Innovating Furnishing Business
Innovation drives business development and demands on leadership and strategies, and even the management of "mountain-climbing pace", says chairman of Ethan Allen, one of the largest U.S. furniture chains.
  • Part 1 0:0:0
  • Part 2 0:7:39
  • Part 3 0:24:10
  • Part 4 0:29:27
  • Part 5 0:36:3

“As an entrepreneur your basic instincts are: if an opportunity comes, you take it. Opportunities come to most people, but the difference is who takes it. And of course you have to be lucky," said Ethan Allen Interiors Inc.’s Chairman and CEO Farooq Kathwari in a keynote address at the “Innovation 2013: from Silicon Valley to China” conference in Tianjin City on October 31, 2013.

Raised up in Kashmir area between India and Pakistan, he got an MBA from New York University in 1968, and is now leading one of the largest U.S. furniture chains.

Innovation move in Ethan Allen

He initiated an innovating effort from late 1980s to early 1990s to transform the production lines and marketing strategies of the company to reach its current height in the global furnishing industry, as well as his individual success. “I told my people, we have to re-invent our brand, otherwise we would be out of business like many great brands which didn’t invent.”

Innovation is not only about transforming new products but process, strategic alliance and brands. “We changed the design of our stores. Most importantly, we changed our culture. As Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘If we don't hang together, by Heavens we shall hang separately.’”

He said that, compared with 20 years ago, the cycle of invention is getting shorter and shorter. “Innovation is not only happening in Silicon Valley, but everywhere in industries.”

Ethan Allen joined hands with a Chinese partner and started business 13 years ago. “During these years, our partner has done an amazing job in taking ideas and investing and establishing the network here. That is really our story in China,” the chairman said.

Leadership principles

“I believe very strongly that business has certain principles,” Farooq said. Almost 25 years ago, he wrote 10 leadership principles for Ethan Allen. The first is that change has to be part of leaders’ DNA, and they have to accept changes. The second is that everybody has to work hard, and the third is that leaders have to set priorities for different things.

“Finally, you should conduct business under the principle of justice. Most people in the world are motivated if they are treated fairly, and are not if treated unfairly, whether they are in business, manufacturing or elsewhere.”

‘Chinese people more fashionable than in other places’

“Interestingly, the changes that are taking place here (China) are not taking place in America,” the chairman said. “We are in the process of re-invention right now.”

He said he is leading the effort to transform the brand of Ethan Allen from a leader in furniture to a leader in home fashion. “It is a big change. In China, people in certain income level are more fashionable than many other parts of the world. That reflects an attitude of wanting to have fashionable brands.”

“Fashion is very important. If a brand does not reflect fashion, just selling fantastic quality even in China is not going to work,” he said.

My advice: ‘manage your mountain-climbing pace’

“I’m a mountain-climber. Mountain teaches you that, if you climb, you have to manage your pace. If you go too high and keep on going, you will die with water in your lungs. So you have to manage your pace. Everything China has to do is to make sure that they don’t climb so high that they get water in their lungs.”

“They’d better understand that it is OK to come down, stabilize, and go up,” the chairman said.

Josette Sheeran
7th President and CEO of Asia Society; former Vice Chair of the World Economic Forum; former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme; former Deputy US Trade Representative in the Office of US Trade Representative.
Farooq Kathwari
Chairman and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc.. "50 Best CEOs in the United States" by Worth magazine. "Outstanding American by Choice" by the US government.
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