Focus on Leadership: Mannington’s Ed Duncan looks back at three decades in flooring - July 2018
Interview by Kemp Harr
At the end of 2018, Ed Duncan, president of Mannington Mills, will retire after more than 33 years in the flooring business. In 1985, while working as director of marketing for laminate firm Wilsonart-which hadn’t yet entered into the flooring business-Duncan was recruited by Tony Kelly at Bigelow Carpet, soon to be acquired by Karastan, to serve as vice president of marketing. Only a couple years later, he went to work for Mannington, where Kelly would eventually serve as CEO. Duncan reports that from his first interview with the privately held firm, he knew that a position at Mannington would be more than just a job, and he went on to spend three decades there.
Q: What led you to choose the flooring business as your career focus?
A: I’m not sure I chose it; I think it chose me! I was working in the marketing department at Wilsonart in Temple, Texas when I was recruited by Bigelow Carpet, which was then in Greenville, South Carolina.
Q: You left Wilsonart to work with Bigelow, but you dedicated most of your career to Mannington. What made Mannington different?
A: I knew from the very first interview that Mannington was a special place. There are many things that drew me to Mannington: privately held/professionally managed, family owned, the Campbell family’s commitment to the long-term success of the company and its values. I saw myself building a career here. It wouldn’t be just a job.
Q: What advantages do family-run companies have over publicly traded or private equity-owned companies?
A: I certainly can’t speak for all family-run companies. But at Mannington, it’s all about long-term success as opposed to the short-term needs of investors or analysts’ opinions. The Campbell family is dedicated to the business, its values and its people. They are patient with Mannington’s capital as long as the vision, strategy and execution are right. There is a culture and soul at Mannington that is hard to describe, but it’s very real.
Q: What did you learn from your days at Karastan that has helped you in your flooring career?
A: I think the greatest lesson was the value of channel discipline in terms of being selective about who we do business with. Karastan did not sell to “anyone and everyone,” and neither does Mannington. The other great lesson was about the power of style leadership. That was the simple Karastan formula, and it’s also how we shape our thinking at Mannington-with a focus on the specialty retailer and a commitment to style leadership.
Q: One of your first assignments at Mannington was to get the company into the commercial market. Tell us a little about that project and the decisions you made.
A: When I came to Mannington, the only commercial presence we had was a commercial carpet company named Wellco, which also sold under the Charleston brand. I was given the task of identifying opportunities to grow our commercial business to help us diversify from our focus as an almost purely residential company.
The first step was to acquire the commercial inlaid sheet technology from a company in Japan and build a new plant in Salem, New Jersey. The second step was to build a VCT plant here. Those two product lines became the basis of what we called Mannington Commercial. We entered that market with a clear focus and differentiation-color and style. We introduced the broadest palette that the A&D community had ever seen from an otherwise commodity-based set of competitors. That became the hallmark of Mannington Commercial. Soon after we established Mannington Commercial in the market and were experiencing success, we changed the name of our carpet company from Wellco to Mannington Commercial.
As I look back on it now, I’m shocked-but also flattered-that they trusted a 36-year-old relative newcomer to the business to lead this effort! I made plenty of mistakes, but we learned quickly, and it has since turned into a great business. I’m proud of what we started, but even more proud of what Jack Ganley and his team have done to grow that business into being a real force in the marketplace.
Q: As you look back over your career, what are some of your greatest achievements?
A: First of all, I can’t take sole credit for any achievement. Everything I did-and do-involves a Mannington team effort. That’s the way we work here. That said, there are some things that come to mind as achievements that I am proud of: the move to organize the business based on market focus, creating a residential and a commercial division-previously we were made up of several freestanding product divisions: resilient, wood, ceramic, carpet; our One Mannington program, which is focused on specialty retailers-the first retailer loyalty program in the industry at the time; the revolutionary Natureform technology; our Adura LVT business; our entry into the laminate flooring business; luxury vinyl sheet and the ColorSelect system. But at the end of the day, my greatest achievements will always be the people I mentored and helped to grow.
Q: How has the flooring business changed in the last ten years?
A: I guess I could put that into four buckets. First, consolidation: the big players-manufacturers, distributors and retailers-are getting bigger. Second, foreign manufacturing and supply has had a huge influence, especially in wood, laminate and now LVT. Third, the dramatic product mix shift to LVT/WPC, which is affecting every legacy category. And, lastly, consumer purchase patterns: how they shop and where they shop. The emergence of and our reliance on the Internet has changed how we all approach the consumer.
Q: What aspect of the industry has to be addressed to ensure the consumer is best served by the suppliers within this industry?
A: Reducing consumer confusion-consumers are overwhelmed with the choices, and we all add to that confusion by creating nuanced stories.
In addition, as consumers rely more on the Internet, we, as an industry, need to figure out how to help them make the best decision and get their floor installed professionally and correctly.
Q: Very few of the presidents of flooring companies have a marketing education background. How has that focus helped you achieve success?
A: I think it has always kept me grounded because I look at things through the lens of the customer and the market. At the end of the day, you have to be focused on what the market needs and how to break through the clutter. Differentiation, positioning and clear storytelling have always been the driver. Of course, you always have to figure out how to make money for the business and provide an appropriate financial return. But if it’s not valued by your customer, you are finished before you even start.
Q: How would your coworkers describe the Ed Duncan style of management?
A: Honest, fair, inclusive, focused. I find good people, then allow-and expect-them to do their job.
Q: Who would you consider to be your top mentors? What did you learn from them?
A: I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in that I’ve worked for a lot of great people. They’ve all had different management styles, and so I’ve learned something different from each of them. But I’d have to say that Tony Kelly, who recruited me into the industry at Bigelow and then became CEO of Mannington after I’d already been here a few years. He also came from a marketing background, with a PhD in marketing from Columbia University. He was relentless in his belief and focus on the importance of product differentiation, simple and clear storytelling, and attention to execution. He instilled that belief in me, and it has served Mannington well, as we have continued to thrive under those beliefs.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time to relax?
A: I’m not hard to please! A good round of golf makes me happy. And I watch a lot of sports, plus my wife, Aubré, and I love to travel.
Q: What do you plan to do when you step away from Mannington at the end of the year?
A: First and foremost, I look forward to spending more time with my family-my wife, my kids and grandkids. I’ve spent a lot of time working over the past 30 years, lots of nights on the road. I’ve loved every minute of it, but it’s time to decompress. It will be an odd feeling since this will be the first January in 35 years that I haven’t been preparing for Surfaces or markets! Beyond that, I plan to manage my retirement much like I managed my career-I’m going to let it come to me and be open to opportunities. I’ll pick and choose what to take advantage of as any opportunities arise. All my friends who are already retired tell me that my days will fill very quickly. I’m excited about this next chapter.
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