Focus on Leadership - January 2012
Interview by Kemp Harr
Brian Carson grew up on Long Island, where his father owned a pipe insulation business. He earned a degree in physics from St. John’s University and a mechanical engineering degree at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Carson started working with Armstrong after earning his degrees. In 2006, after spending 16 years with Armstrong, he was offered a job as president of hard surfaces at Mohawk and was later promoted to vice president of operations for that division. In 2011, he became COO of Mohawk and took on the role of president of the company just this month. Carson lives in Marietta, Georgia with his wife, Donna, and two daughters, Jessica and Rachel.
Q: What are your top three priorities as you take the helm as president of Mohawk?
A: I look at our top priorities in terms of how they relate to our customers. First, we want to listen to our customers and deliver on their needs. That’s always number one. Secondly, we want to continue to further our organizational capabilities. It’s important that we have the right people and right st rategies in place so that we can always add value for our customers. Thirdly, we want to grow our profitability, which is the engine that allows us to invest in technologies that drive innovation.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing you in this new role?
A: We’ve managed through the challenges of the economic downturn of the past few years, as have our retail partners. But with those challenges have come opportunities. We’ve introduced a number of successful product lines. Our merchandising is now more engaging than ever before. We are delivering high quality goods faster and with greater accuracy. We continue to invest in new productivity tools to help our sales team make a difference in our customers’ businesses. At Mohawk, we have put in place the fundamentals to overcome whatever challenges emerge.
Q: What part of the business are you most passionate about?
A: I’m most passionate about the customer. Without their support of our business, we have no business. Along those same lines, I’m incredibly passionate about innovation and creating unique, differentiated products that help our customers earn business and grow profits. When our customers are successful, we will be, too.
Q: How important is branding in your business, and do you think it is important for the consumer to know who Mohawk is? What are your strategies for building and differentiating your brand for the future?
A: Brands are important for three reasons: to create pull with the consumer, to create an image that expands margins, and to differentiate the various channels to ensure all of them are profitable. I think that Mohawk, Karastan, Lees and Bigelow in particular are among the best-known brands in the residential and commercial flooring industries. We’ve invested to build those brands, and we’ll continue to nurture and grow them with consumers through advertising and product placement, as well as by engaging meaningful partnerships like our longstanding commitment to Komen for the Cure and our new partnership with Operation Finally Home.
Q: In this slow, cautious market, how do you defend against the potential for commoditization of your products—where price is the key differentiator?
A: If your question is whether we drive sales with price or value, keep in mind that we actively participate in all price points. Our objective is to create value at all price points. On the residential side, our SmartStrand innovation is a great example of how we do that. We have SmartStrand Tri-Star at the opening price point, all the way to SmartStrand Silk at the premium. We do the same thing in the commercial space with Colorstrand being our base and SmartStrand Contract being top-of-the-line. I think we make a compelling case for adding value at all price points, and we will continue to refine these messages with new innovative products that will make it easier for customers to trade up.
Q: What’s the brightest spot in the business right now?
A: There are multiple bright spots. We are continuing to deliver positive results in the commercial category by offering products at key price points that are differentiated by design, fiber content and construction. We also have introduced new lines that make us highly competitive in the multi-family housing segment, which is outpacing the growth of residential construction in general. We are also seeing increased opportunities in the luxury flooring category, and our strong luxury flooring brands and the quality of design in those products make us very competitive there.
Q: How do you balance your presence in the home centers with what you offer the independent retailers?
A: The home centers are a key part of the market. It is important for Mohawk to find ways to differentiate the various channels to ensure that all of them are profitable. We achieve this by having differentiated products, branding and merchandising so that all channels want to support our business.
Q: This year, you are promoting the fact that most of your products are “made in the USA.” How can you ensure that what you produce here in the U.S. provides the market with the right balance of quality and value—versus what you can source from overseas?
A: I’m proud that many of our products are made in the United States, and I’m proud of our retailers who see the value in selling products that are manufactured in this country. There is very little carpet in this market produced overseas, but in other product categories we do face significant foreign competition. I believe in the exceptional quality of the products we make in this country, and I believe in the men and women in our company who make them.
Q: As a publicly traded company, how do you balance the pressure to give your shareholders a quarterly return on investment with the need to invest long-term in brand presence, personnel development and manufacturing excellence?
A: I think our shareholders want us to return value today, but they are equally as concerned with us making investments that build for tomorrow. When we invest in building our brand, increase the talent in our organization and drive process improvement through capital expenditures, we are growing the value of the business for the long term.
Q: How has the Internet, including social media, changed Mohawk’s approach to the business?
A: Mohawk has numerous compelling stories to tell, and the Internet and social media continue to give us new and exciting avenues to tell these stories. It allows us to connect with the consumer where they are and almost instantaneously direct them to our valued retailer partners.
Q: What are Mohawk’s next steps for increasing the sustainability of its products? And what are the challenges you are facing in going green?
A: At Mohawk we always develop “stretch goals” for our business, and it’s the same for sustainability. Each year, we divert more than three billion pounds of material from the landfill. That’s 187 truckloads of material a day, which is a solid foundation, but we want to find ways to economically grow that number. We want to push our own limits. We are always looking at how we can advance our use of recyclable and renewable materials, consume less energy and divert additional materials from the landfill. The challenge is making these sustainable improvements commercially viable. I believe that if it’s not economically sustainable, it’s not sustainable over the long haul.
Q: Most of the more successful leaders understand the need to continue their education. How will you quench your thirst for expanded knowledge?
A: Mohawk has been ranked among the Top 125 training organizations for seven years now, and I definitely take advantage of the learning opportunities within the company. I have found the opportunity to learn something from every person and in every situation. I will continue to learn a great deal from our employees and from our customers, and I’m excited about that.
Q: Who is your role model and why?
A: My family members continue to be role models for me. They’ve shown me the importance of working hard, always doing the right thing, and staying true to what I believe in. Like them, I am committed to delivering on my promises.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus