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Bruce Platzman - AIS
After Bruce Platzman graduated from a Boston business school, he never intended to get into the office furniture industry. Right out of school, Platzman, now chief executive officer and president of AIS, went to a local employment agency. "They asked me if I had any interest in selling office furniture," he said. "I said to them, 'What, are you crazy? I just went to one of the best business schools in the country and you want me to sell office furniture?'"
The employment agency convinced Platzman to go to the interview at the Steelcase dealership (though he had never even heard of Steelcase). He completed the interview and took the job at one of the largest Steelcase dealers in the country.
"Right from the start, I was extremely happy," he said. "Not having a lot of business experience, I was intrigued by the atmosphere, intrigued by the energy I found there. The vice president of sales and marketing took me under his wing right away and I was privy and part of many high level meetings at a young age."
Platzman was a sales rep, went on to become a branch manager in Providence, RI, and then went to a small Knoll dealership in Boston, where he was an equity partner. But it wasn't until the early 1990s, when he and a partner started AIS, that he really made his mark on the industry.
There was a deep recession going on at the time, the worst of it focused in New England. Large banks were failing. There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty and that uncertainty led to customers putting off furniture purchases. Platzman said it was the worst recession he has seen. "No one was buying furniture," he said.
Affordable Interior Systems was created to capitalize on that market. Platzman and his partner bought the furniture from a failed Boston bank, remanufactured it and sold it. The company was off and running.
Demand for this low cost approach struck a chord in the marketplace. AIS quickly expanded its operation and handled all of the steps in the remanufacturing process. As the market evolved, AIS evolved with it. By 1996, the company had shifted its focus to the production of its own brand of workstations. Fueled by demand for high-value office furniture, the company quickly became one of the top manufacturers of new products for the New England market.
Between 2000 and 2007 alone, sales grew from $20 million to more than $100 million -- a pace nearly 400 percent ahead of the industry. That placed AIS among the top seven systems furniture companies by volume in the U.S. In 2005, the company officially changed its name from Affordable Interior Systems to AIS. The goal of the name change was to re-brand the company as a manufacturer of new and proprietary systems.
After decades in the business, Platzman said he still enjoys waking up early and coming into the office. He believes AIS is in a unique position in the industry. "I think it is interesting that like any industry, there are founders that may lose passion and interest over time," he said. "When I come into the office, it is still like the first day of work for me. It has been an exciting ride for us -- for the most part, straight up."
As a decision maker, Platzman said he takes his responsibility as a business leader seriously, noting that what he does affects not only his 350 employees, but 350 families. He said he asks his employees to work hard and be totally committed to the company's mission. Because of that, he said the company is "taking market share day in and day out."
Like many others in the industry, Platzman is waiting to see what work trends will take hold. The way people work is changing, as is the way companies are spending money on furniture. While other industries have rebounded to pre-recession numbers, the office furniture industry is still off 40 percent from its 2000 peak.
"I think there is going to be a consolidation at the manufacturing and distribution level," he said. "One of my concerns is that the dealer level is not attracting a lot of good, young talent. We are not getting the smart, business-educated 22 year-old kids to come into our industry. I think that is going to hurt us all."
AIS is not standing still. In 2011, AIS acquired a seating company, an important move that makes the company a more complete office furniture maker. "We will bring that same value proposition to seating," Platzman said. "We are also looking at developing a wall product in the next 12 months to compete with the industry leaders. And we are introducing a laminate casegoods line for private offices and conference rooms."
Platzman said the company is well positioned. While the company sees the continued need for panel systems, AIS is evaluating the desking and benching movements as well.
AIS' approach has earned it high praise, including the 2003 Shingo Prize for Excellence, and recognition by Industry Week magazine as one of the top 25 manufacturing plants in North America. In addition: 90 percent of the company's product line is now available as a 10-day quick ship, making its lead-time among the shortest in the industry; and 98.7 percent of the company's orders ship when they say they will ship, complete and on-time. The company also says it has the lowest number of freight claim incidents by volume in the industry.
When not leading a hard charging life in the office, Platzman is leading a hard charging life outside of it. Platzman enjoys spending time with his family. He has four children that range in age from 8 to 26. He is very involved in coaching Little League baseball and basketball. "I love skiing," he said. "If I could figure out a way to ski every day, I would."