Setting the tone
by Alan Ramsey
About a year ago we were invited to visit the Carl Hansen & Søn factory in Odense, a couple of hours drive from Copenhagen. We had specified their furniture in our interior design projects, and this was an opportunity, courtesy of Carl Hansen and TwentyTwentyOne, to get up close and personal with the brand. We were blown away by the experience. I myself, tend to geek out on factory visits. I can’t get enough of seeing something being made from scratch, especially when it’s a product I’ve known and enjoyed for years. It was a treat to see the iconic CH24 wishbone chair and the CH22 Lounge chair going through all their various processes, handled with finesse by both robots and humans. As we were shown around each room of the factory it was a wild mix of technology-driven production alongside slow and painstaking handcrafted intervention. I could have watched the hand weaving of the seats all day. All of the stages were mesmerising in their own way. But what impacted me more than seeing these iconic pieces of furniture come to life was the warm and positive atmosphere in which they were made. The staff seemed to exude a genuine sense of fulfilment in each of their roles at the factory. Even when we don’t speak the language, we can soon pick up on whether or not a workplace is a happy and energising one. The Carl Hansen factory is. And like most organisations the tone of the culture is set by those in charge so we were fortunate to spend time with the top man himself.
The day following our factory tour we were treated to brunch at the stylish showroom in the centre of Copenhagen and Knud Erik Hansen, CEO, owner and grandson of the founder, came to meet us. Knud has taken the brand to new heights since he became the third-generation leader of the business in 2002. For one thing, he has massively increased its global presence. There are now flagship stores and showrooms in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Osaka, London, Milan, Stockholm and Copenhagen.
And yet, he rarely talked about any of this in the hour or so that he spent with us. He didn’t boast about the great success or commercial strategies of the business. And he talked very little about the furniture itself. Instead he spoke mainly about his staff. He talked with a genuine sense of pride, empathy and care about his workforce – some arriving unskilled or out of difficult circumstances - from all over the world. There was a humility in his language and a sense of great responsibility for those who help make the brand so popular. It somehow made sense of why there was such a positive vibe to the factory. We had been told previous day about the great parties that Knud regularly hosts for all his staff at his own home and how the door to his office is always open.
I left with the feeling that this century-old family business is more than just about the Hansens. It’s like an extended family where the people really do matter as much as the product. For me, this is inspiring when so many organisations struggle to create a happy workplace for their staff. And it elevates my appreciation for those famous chairs to a whole new level.