Wood Industry Market Leader: Steve Brewster, Kimball Office

For Steve Brewster, woodworking started as a hobby and blossomed into a lifelong career. “I built furniture for family and friends before entering the furniture manufacturing industry. It was some of the furniture built in my shop behind our house that actually led me to my first position with a home furnishings manufacturer,” he says.

And he adds, “After 30 years of working in small and large factories, holding positions from wood carver to the front office, and today as the Director of Sustainability for Kimball Office, I still call myself a furniture maker. I’ve been fortunate to work in pretty much every functional area, with the exception of accounting, and have developed a broad perspective of our industry. Without a doubt, the breadth of my experience has helped me achieve any measure of success I have been fortunate enough to reach as an individual. I like to think these experiences have helped me contribute to the success of those companies as well.”

And Kimball Office is indeed successful, considered one of the foremost sustainable manufacturers in the contract furniture industry. “Kimball Office, has been manufacturing furniture in a sustainable and socially responsible manner for 40 years. We’ve won a number of business, environmental and design awards over the years, and while the recognition is nice, I’m pleased with the fact that we are good stewards of the environment, because it’s simply the right thing to do,” Brewster says.

Brewster himself has gained industry recognition in sharing his knowledge of sustainable manufacturing at numerous events. “Staying current with changing trends, societal requirements and technology is the greatest challenge we all face in this industry. Furniture manufacturing is not a young industry. People have been manufacturing furniture for thousands of years. In a mature industry like ours, it can be easy to continue following the same practices for years at a time and not move forward with business, design, or sustainability trends.

“To be successful, we must keep looking forward, seeking to understand the changing needs of our customers and society, and focusing on how to improve our processes and materials,” he says. “By concentrating on the elements our customers value and improving processes to eliminate waste, we can continue meeting society’s needs. Combine that understanding with new and innovative materials and manufacturing processes, and I think you have the formula for success in our industry.”

Quick Glimpse:

• Education: University of Evansville, University of Southern Indiana
• Years at the company: 13
• Years in the industry: 30
• Words that best describe you: Furniture maker
• The person you have tried to emulate in business and why: I’ve always been interested in Abraham Lincoln. Years ago, I had the opportunity to read a book entitled “Lincoln on Leadership” that described how many of the attributes of Lincoln that I value and admire still have a place in business today.


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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at [email protected]