Ex-Herman Miller VP Paul Nemschoff buys stake in growing furniture supplier – MLive.com

CHICAGO — When Paul Nemschoff left Herman Miller last year, most figured the rising executive would head back across Lake Michigan to his native Wisconsin.

During his six years at Sheboygan-based Nemschoff Inc, he helped his family’s three-generational business double sales to $90 million and become one of the top suppliers of furniture for the healthcare industry — before it was sold to Herman Miller in 2009 for $63 million. After the stock options, the purchase price totaled more than $80 million, according to Nemschoff.

He wants to have a similar impact on DSA International.

This week at NeoCon, Nemschoff announced he bought a stake in the small but growing Zeeland-based supplier to West Michigan furniture-makers American Seating, Enwork and Trendway.

“I’m particularly intrigued with the supply side of the industry,” said Nemschoff, noting that DSA doesn’t compete with his former employers.

Nemschoff, 40, will come on board as a third partner to founders Brad DeBruyne, 49 and Mark Bouwman, 52. DeBruyne handles the company’s chief executive officer while Bouwman is chief operating officer. As of now, Nemschoff doesn’t have a title with his new job.

The trio declined to share DSA’s annual sales figures, but said the company has had double digit growth every year since coming out of the Great Recession in 2009.

DSA has a workforce of 70 employees – with 55 at the company’s headquarters at 680 Case Karsten Drive. The rest are split between Asian operations in Bangkok, Thailand and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

Nemschoff describes DSA as the industry’s best-kept secret. The company didn’t have a showroom or even a booth at the office furniture trade show in downtown Chicago. But several of its products were featured in showrooms at Merchandise Mart.

“We design, develop, prototype and manufactures products for the OEM,” said DeBruyne. (OEM is an abbreviation for original equipment manufacturer.)

DeBruyne and Bouwman, who launched DSA in 2002, weren’t looking for a partner when a chance encounter brought them in contact with Nemschoff. But they recognized immediately he could help them execute an ambitious growth strategy.

“Paul fits perfectly where we need expertise” DeBruyne said. “He’s a great mix between analytic and venture.”

Bouwman adds: “I think if we could have crafted an ideal partner, it would be Paul. He sits uniquely between Brad and I.”

Nemschoff earned an MBA at Georgetown University and worked at automotive giant Toyota on strategic projects before returning to his family’s business in 2003 as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Working with his father, Mark Nemschoff, and company CEO, Nemschoff, redesigned the sales and distribution side of the business, helping to grow sales by 125 percent over six years.

He stayed on with the company when it was acquired by Herman Miller in 2009. He served as vice president of marketing and distribution for Herman Miller Healthcare, and in 2013 was promoted to vice president of seating.

A year later he quit.

“I want to be very, very clear Herman Miller is a great company,” said Nemschoff. “They make great products. I’m proud of the work I did there.”

On the verge of turning 40 at the time, Nemschoff said he took stock of his career and realized he wanted to be back at a smaller business with significant growth potential.

“I’m a big believer that when you make a decision you need to grab the decision and go.”

When he left Herman Miller, Nemschoff didn’t have a plan for what was next. He and his wife, Anne, a public relations consultant, just knew they wanted to stay in West Michigan.

Three months later, he and DeBruyne reconnected coming back from holiday vacations with their families. A twice-canceled Delta flight left them stranded in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, providing some time to talk.

That fortuitous December conversation led to more discussions in the spring and an agreement in June.

“There was an immediate synergy between all three of us,” said Bouwman, whose office furniture career includes 13 years at Holland office furniture-maker Haworth. “Those are once in a lifetime opportunities that we really have to take when in front of us.”

Shandra Martinez covers business for MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. Email her or follow her on Twitter @shandramartinez.


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