Chris Stormer is CEO and one of four co-founders of Joybird Furniture. Born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, he graduated from Penn State University, and has been in the furniture industry for over 15 years. Chris’s passion lies in furniture design and innovation and gathers his inspiration from constant reading. He lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife and has an 9-month-old baby girl.
What’s most exciting to you at this point in your career?
Being part of a manufacturing renaissance. We have focused on being elastic from day one which has allowed us to adapt and develop at an extraordinary pace. The challenges of running a lean elastic organization that provides extremely high quality products as well as an amazing customer experience is very rewarding.
Give me an example of when you inspired people with a vision.
I think the truth is we rarely know which words or actions will inspire ahead of time. There are those rare moments when you are working with your team and you can see the lights come on. I remember one time early on when we were building our first prototypes and I kept rejecting the prototypes for not being the level of quality we were shooting for. Finally I gathered everybody around, it was only a group of 20-30 people and talked about the moments that would be experienced and created on our sofas – whether it was opening gifts on Christmas day or family movie night. From this core group of people we have built a culture of quality above all else.
Do you feel it’s your sole responsibility as the CEO to drive towards the vision, or do you allow others in your organization to take the lead?
I have learned to have others take the lead. Empowering the leaders in my company encourages their growth and allows me to focus on things only I can really move the needle on. I share our vision with 3 other partners and we try to always make sure everything we do goes back to our vision and moves the company forward to offer our customers the best possible product and experience.
How would you describe your leadership philosophy?
Surround yourself with smart people.
What’s the greatest compliment you’ve ever been given in your time as a leader?
That I am very open to suggestions on how to improve our company from any person at any level. This is rewarding to hear because encouraging our employees to tell us how to improve from within is one of our main focuses.
Tell me about how you’ve scaled. What was a defining moment or decision you made that put you on that path?
I try to break everything down to the lowest common denominator and consistently move the bottle neck. There was a short time when we let down our customers when we were late on ship dates. While mistakes can be tolerated, poor experience and missed commitments cannot.
Share with me one of your greatest accomplishments while being incredibly resource disadvantaged.
Launching our Joybird website. Unlike a lot of companies that are venture capitalized, we had no big financiers or fall back cushion. By learning this way, we did it the hard way by bootstrapping our way through.
How do you invest in yourself to increase your impact?
Consistently reading books pertaining to the furniture and wood industry, along with books chronicling the practices of successful companies, and leadership. At our core we are a furniture / service company. I strive to to become a master of those two domains.
How does consistent learning and curiosity show up in your organization?
We really like to empower our teams to be the experts in their departments, along with encouraging a desire to understand how each department affects the others. Because we are fortunate to have some of the best and brightest in our company, it really does foster an environment where others seek to continuously grow and learn more. I am a big believer in being the master of your domain. Whatever your project / skill, you are entrusted with do everything in your power to become the best there has ever been.
What’s one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting to hire talent?
Stay lean – employee bloat not only hurts the bottom line, it hurts output. The reality is that hiring is a huge drain on the energy of the current team. Better to add very slowly over time and only at breaking points. And only when that breaking point is being reached everyday. By over staffing the only result is getting less with more people.
The other painful lesson I’ve learned is that more often than not, a good employee does not make a good manager. When we started out, we took some our best employees and made them department heads. The end result was losing a great employee and gaining a bad manager. The longer term consequences are lower output, disorganization, employee bloat and lower morale. The concept is true in any department at any level.
How do you attract the best and brightest?
I always make it a point to look for people who are smarter than I am. I want to be surrounded by people who are bright and the experts in their field of work. This allows them to contribute to the organization in ways I cannot and of course provides learning opportunities for myself and the rest of our team. When you approach things this way, it is easy to hire. Good people want to work with good people.
If you could go back to when you were just starting Joybird and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?
I would have worked more closely with the engineering department from day one. Making sure they were developing the best procedures and processes to be more dynamic and flexible. We did great engineering early on, but we also had a few hundred thousand product combinations which required a whole new way of engineering and organizing data.
TruPath is an executive search firm that finds mid to senior level executives in mission critical roles at your organization. This interview is part of our executive interview series, where we ask CEO’s a series of questions about their leadership philosophies and practices. Contact us if you’d like to recommend a CEO to interview, or if you’re looking for a leader to join your team.