Get to Know MillerKnoll Sales Executive Gretchen Richardson
We recently sat down for an interview with MillerKnoll Executive, Gretchen Richardson, where she shares her small-town upbringing, her deep passion for workplace design, and where the workplace is headed.
1. Tell me a little bit about your professional background.
I grew up in a very small town on a farm on the southeast side of Texas called Sour Lake. Most people haven't heard of it as it is barely on the map with a population of about 1200 people. After I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to get out of the small town so I stumbled upon Louisiana Tech. It was a great school! I initially went in for accounting because I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do, but it was actually my mom who convinced me to switch to interior design. While in college, I got an internship with Steelcase in Michigan where I stayed for a month with students from all over the country. While I was getting ready to graduate, I began applying for jobs and got one with an interior design firm in Oklahoma City, where I stayed for 10 years. After that, I moved to Memphis for a few years and then to San Diego where I took a position as a Design Director for a Steelcase dealer. After spending many years in the design field, I became intrigued by sales, and one day, a position with Knoll opened up. The person who I would be replacing had been with the company for 17 years and I knew if I didn't apply then, the position may not have become available again. I just celebrated 7 years with Knoll (now MillerKnoll) and am very happy.
2. Gosh you aren’t afraid to move! What was it like growing up in such a small town and then moving to bigger towns?
Personality-wise, I have always been a pretty confident person. I’ve never been fearful of change or starting over. My mindset is that if you are a good person and make choices for the right reasons, good things follow and friendships develop. Moving to California was the most intimidating for me because I didn’t know a single soul here. My only comfort was knowing Steelcase. But things have worked out for me here. I met my husband who is a native San Diegan.
3. Is there anything you miss about being home, or in a small town?
One thing I deeply miss about home is sweet tea and southern comfort food. You know, there are a lot of benefits to growing up in a small town. Everyone knows you and knows everything about you. That can be good and bad, but there's something really nice about that. My nearest neighbor was a half mile away and he was my best friend...in fact, we are still best friends today.
4. I can imagine! Do you still visit?
I do. I go home three to four times a year.
5. What is your job title and what are your primary responsibilities?
My title is Client Development Executive and it is both a sales and dealer support role.
6. Has anyone made a memorable impact or influence on your career journey?
Yes, two people come to mind for me. One of my college professors named was Guy Carlile. He was a Houston architect and the primary Studio Director during my junior and senior years. He had real-world practical experience and he was very encouraging and informative about all of the different career avenues I could pursue. I still keep in touch with him to this day! Another person that comes to mind is the owner of the dealer I worked for in Memphis. He was an incredible mentor who encouraged me and taught me what it takes to be a good leader. He always invested in people without expectation. Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly several years ago.
7. Why furniture?
I have always been really interested in the psychology and mechanics of what makes a workplace productive. Thanks to my design background, I have always been very visually oriented, and find aesthetics to be important. How you feel at work can impact the way in which you work and the success of an organization. I love that Millerknoll is so invested in understanding that and how it evolves. Their research has also found that people also need effective home environments. All of us need work-life balance and to have an ergonomically productive place at home that provides flexibility.
8. What is the biggest change in the field you have seen since you started?
I used to have to courier plans across town, you had to drive it where it had to go, couldn’t email it. They were too big to fax. The speed-to-market aspect of what we do has been amplified by a thousand. Customers today expect things to happen instantly. Beyond this, another big shift I’ve seen is this move towards a greater focus on collaborative areas. I've seen a shift from about 90% workstations and private offices and 10% collaborative areas to 50% workstations and private offices, and 50% collaborative areas. The pandemic put a temporary dot on the map, creating this feeling that we need to be separated from others. I don’t think that will last, I think we will get back on track with this. The last shift I have seen is a drive for products to do more than one thing, that provides more than one solution. The Herman Miller OE1 and Knoll Rockwell Unscripted product lines are good examples of this - they are a response to the research that people need to be able to have a space for them to work more than one way.
9. Are there any exciting new products you are excited about?
Yes, actually. The Knoll Newsom Task Chair. There is also an upcoming new private office line that doesn't have a name yet. On the Herman Miller side of things, I just love OE1; it is so beautiful yet simple.
10. Do you own any MillerKnoll pieces in your home and do you have a favorite product?
I love the Knoll Saarinen Womb Chair and Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair and I own both of these. Almost everything in my house is MillerKnoll, except for my bedrooms. I would love to get a Noguchi Table and a Nelson Clock someday.
11. Do you have any favorite recent international travel destinations?
My husband and I went to Italy for the first time right before the pandemic hit. We spent most of our time in Tuscany and it was incredible. We stayed in this awesome old monastery that was converted into a house with an apartment on the site. We stayed at the apartment and loved it. Can't wait to go back again!
12. Any side hobbies?
I love to cook, especially creole food or anything cajun like jambalaya. I also love to refinish furniture. I get pleasure out of finding things that are overlooked at antique stores or on the side of the road and giving them a new life.
13. Favorite comfort food?
The thing I miss the most is Bluebell ice cream. They used to only sell it in Texas, but it is more widely available in the south now. But, they don't sell it in California. It is hands-down my favorite ice cream.
14. Drink of choice?
Sweet tea is my favorite non-alcoholic drink and wine is my favorite adult beverage. During the summertime, I like sauvignon blanc and during the winter, I drink cabernet sauvignon.
15. Earlier, you talked about meeting your husband here. How did the two of you meet and how long have you been married?
I met my husband through a mutual friend. We kept bumping into each other and eventually we exchanged numbers. My grandmother had passed away and I had to fly out to her funeral. He called me when I landed back in San Diego and offered to pick me up because he didn't want me to be alone after that. I found out later that he left a fantasy football draft to pick me up (laughing). We got married in 2011 and the rest is history.
16. Any kids or pets?
My husband had three kids from his previous relationship and we have a son together. We also have an African Mastiff named Delilah. She's a big baby who sleeps most of the day and gets random bursts of energy. She is huge!
17. Ok, last question! Is there anything people would be surprised to know about you?
Well, usually people are surprised when they learn that I was a Texas state champion powerlifter. I won my weight division. At the time, I could deadlift 350 pounds! I can't do that anymore though (laughing). I also hiked Mount Whitney in 2009 and I would like to do it again someday. I did it with one of my best friends and we were part of a larger group. It took us two and a half days and was an amazing experience.