Kevin Kuske, general wood manager, Steelcase Inc.
Kevin Kuske, general wood manager, Steelcase Inc.

“Every day is a new experience and if you are open to learning, the experiences that make you better come every day,” says Kevin Kuske.

One of the earliest experiences that shaped Kuske involved developing a treatment for schizophrenia while working as a chemist at Eli Lilly. “Observing, listening and looking at the problem from the customer’s point of view made the solution obvious and the team passionately went home to launch all three [liquid, pill and patch] formulations,” he recalls.

“Eleven years later, these insights still help me. Perhaps more importantly, they also inspired me to insist that all of my teams spend time observing our customers, our dealers, our partners as much as possible, regardless of what part of the company they are in. This concept is the very foundation of innovation at Steelcase — the power of observation and design thinking.”

Kuske has been instrumental in helping Steelcase reinvent its Wood business, from the ground up. “Everything had to change: our processes, our products, our pricing and our performance. In just a few years we have created huge improvements in profitability, brought truly innovative products to market and set new standards and expectations for performance,” he says. The company is at the forefront in environmental stewardship, having eliminated formaldehyde from its finishing operation and PVC from its newest platforms, while working toward the goal of zero impact. Steelcase was also the first in the market to have a Cradle-to-Cradle designed casegoods collection.

“This is a very exciting time to be in business where sustainability, the principles of lean and just plain good business strategy are all converging in a powerful way.”

Kuske is responsible for two areas of the company: Turnstone and Steelcase Wood. “In both cases, we have a huge opportunity to help people love how they work and be more productive. We all spend too much time away from our families to not be passionate about our time at work,” he says.

In fact, it is his family that Kuske credits for teaching him the value of hard work and for giving him the love of learning. “My wife taught me more than anyone about the power of listening and the difference between helping people solve their problems vs. solving them for them,” he adds.

Kevin Kuske: Quick Glimpse

• Education: BS, Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan; MBA, Northwestern University

• Years at the company: 11

• Years in the industry: 11

• Word that best describes you: Curious

• The person you have tried to emulate in business and why: My father. In his career, his ability to combine empathy, analytical thinking, strong relationships, strategy and practical solving of problems is something I have always admired and wanted to live up to.

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