Monroe-based furniture manufacturer La-Z-Boy Inc. this week named a new CEO as longtime executive Kurt Darrow sets his retirement date.
Darrow, 66, will retire effective April 25 and will be replaced by current CFO Melinda Whittington. Darrow will remain chairman of La-Z-Boy’s non-executive board.
Darrow spent 40 years at La-Z-Boy, 17 years as its top executive. He said it was time to pass the reins.
“No matter what happens in the world, your age doesn’t stop you from growing,” Darrow said. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and given the strength of the business, I am ready. And when we had Melinda join the company, she had all the characteristics and our team respects her and her ability to lead.”
Whittington, 53, joined La-Z-Boy in 2018 as CFO. Prior to La-Z-Boy, she served as the CFO for publicly traded physician practice management firm Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc. in Chicago. She also spent time in top financial executive roles at Kraft Foods Group and 20 years at Procter & Gamble, mostly recently as finance director until 2014.
The incoming CEO plans to maintain the company’s course with plans to expand its e-commerce operations to adjust to shopping preferences expedited during the pandemic. La-Z-Boy acquired online furniture retailer Stitch Industries Inc., which sells products under the brand Joybird, in 2019 and expanded revenue from $55 million in 2018 to a projected $100 million in La-Z-Boy’s 2021 fiscal year, Darrow said. La-Z-Boy operates Joybird galleries in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.
“In the company’s 90-plus year history, there’s been a series of evolutions,” Whittington said. “For now, the biggest near-term focus is on being omni-channel. When we journeyed into e-commerce, we may have talked about La-Z-Boy and Joybird differently. But the pandemic blew that up. Any furniture brand needs to be an e-commerce brand. La-Z-Boy is still the lions share of our sales and our consumer still prefers the final purchase in store. But, increasingly, they are doing all the research online before coming in to make the purchase. So we continue to invest in our digital presence to attract that consumer. The next step for La-Z-Boy is help the consumer to work smoothly and effortlessly on through those various channels.”
The company is still reeling from the pandemic, which caused shutdowns of its manufacturing operations and materials shortages.
“The biggest challenge remains to just to stay agile through this whole thing,” Whittington said. “Not even a year ago, we were making a decision to temporarily shut down the majority of plants. Our stores and our customers stores were shut down. But we’ve seen disproportionate growth to the tune we’re up being 18 percent year-to-date in orders written. That even counts the months we were closed down completely. We’ve opened new facilities and are working overtime. We’ve seen shorter term blips such as the shortage of foam to this week’s ice and snow storms to unprecedented levels of people being sick with COVID in November, December and January and being out of our plants. It’s been challenging, but we’ve handled it.”
In La-Z-Boy’s fiscal third quarter, which ended Jan. 23, the company reported net income of $29.2 million on revenue of $470.2 million, down slightly from income of $34.5 million on revenue of $475.9 million during its Q3 in 2020.