Mohawk President Brian Carson on Developing the Next Generation of Flooring Leaders
For the twelfth consecutive year, Mohawk Industries has been recognized for outstanding training and development programs that help employees expand their skills and inspire their ambitions. The company’s industry-leading commitment to continuous learning earned Mohawk a spot in the 2018 edition of Training magazine’s annual Top 125 rankings. The company’s dedication to workforce development throughout the business is a way of creating value for customers and ensuring the continued success of the organization.
Each day hundreds of men and women throughout the company formally and informally train, coach and mentor employees so that they can fulfill their potential while helping the business achieve its goals. Floor Trends recently discussed workforce development with Mohawk president Brian Carson and why it’s such a passion project for him.
FT: Why is training and nurturing talent such a focus for Mohawk?
Carson: I have a lot of passion in this area. As I think about young people entering the flooring industry, and knowing what I know today, would I enter the flooring industry today? The answer is absolutely yes. I think the flooring industry is a wonderful business. It’s a necessary product. It’s what we walk on and what we live on. On one hand the types of flooring change, and they should, but there is also a constant, which is that people are always going to need flooring. You can build a real career and it will never be boring.
FT: What are the opportunities for younger generations in flooring?
Carson: As I think about people coming up, the way people do research for flooring is moving digital. While marketing is still absolutely critical, the way marketing is done is changing, so many of our business-to-business transactions with our dealer partners are becoming electronic rather than facts and phone calls. The types of jobs—digital marketing, social media, people that design business-to-business interfaces—there is an element that is very forward looking and more electronic and more computer and IT, which creates a different need. You certainly have to be more tech savvy, but you have to have a greater appreciation for the power of these emerging technologies.
On the other side of it, it’s still a people business. People design the product, people make the product, people ship the product and people still, for the most part, buy flooring from people they like and trust. So, as much as they say people buy flooring for price, if I’m a dealer, I’m interested in buying from someone who understands my business, cares about my business, I like them and I trust them. I don’t think that has changed as much as the technology of researching products on the internet has. So, on one hand, there has been a leap into the future but on the other hand, people still buy from people. The next generation is far more tech savvy than us. Establishing the communication, the influencing skills, the collaboration skills, that area, I still see that part of the business enduring for a long time.
FT: What skills can help young people prepare for a career in flooring?
Carson: When I think about the skills and life experiences that can help young people prepare, I think that is understanding the power of the emerging technologies but also keeping it in proper balance that is still people and you have to be able to influence and lead people. It’s an interesting challenge because some businesses have become completely electronic and some haven’t changed a lot. In many respects, the flooring business covers the waterfront of those skills that are needed.
All of us over the years, we all refine our technical skills, our business wisdom, and our communication skills as we move along in our careers and as we move along in our life. I think it will be true for the next generation. The way the customers want to be interacted with our dealers customers and end-use customers, the world does change, but it is a people business. It creates excitement.
FT: What have you learned that helped you build a successful career in flooring?
Carson: Early in my career, when I was a young plant manager, someone gave me a piece of advice that I still remember today: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The takeaway in that is you have to have good business acumen, you have to have good strategic thinking, but still organizations are people and you have to be able to influence people. No business is a one-man band. It’s a collaboration of groups of people. You have to be able to influence and lead the folks. What I say was true 50 years ago and will be true 50 years from now. I am incredibly optimistic about the next generation’s ability to lead the industry.
When I think about leadership, I think about our customers and employees as leaders. How do we through our leadership create the products, services, the relationships and the partnerships to create value for everyone? We have to create value for our dealers partners just like they have to create value for their customers. We also have to create value for our employees, making the work more interesting, making it enriching and I think the leaders that can keep that in proper balance tend to be the most successful.
FT: What programs does Mohawk have in place to nurture future leaders?
Carson: We have extensive apprentice programs for engineering functions, accounting functions, design functions. A part of that is to give the kids in school exposure and to give back to the communities. The other part of it is we ask the interns to contribute and add value. And in many cases it gives us the opportunity to see if some of those folks are folks we want around long term. Mohawk is a big company and every year we have people retiring, people joining the business and we are growing every year. There is always a need for talent and our internship has been a great program to see what folks can do in an office environment. In some cases, they may choose not to come work for us, and that’s all great because they got experience. And part of it is learning what you don’t want to do as well. The intern program is a critical part of what we do. Once they get through the intern program, we do a lot with the sales development program where we are teaching relationship skills, how to engage with folks.
We also have a program called Mohawk G3—which is grow your business, grow yourself, and grow your team—where you have the folks that have been with Mohawk for, say, 10 years and they can identify with folks with particularly high potential who have some of the basic skills to move up. They spend a year working in a cross-functional team working under a mentorship of one of us senior leaders in the company, and we give them business challenges to solve that we are not smart enough to figure out ourselves. I recently spent all day with the report out of three of these teams that have been at work for over year. The creative thinking they came up with to shift this business, it was fabulous.
Mohawk is a big company. People who are really outstanding in finance but didn’t know many people in sales or manufacturing, we put these folks all together in a room and we ask them to solve some business challenges that can’t be solved doing any one function. Business challenges usually go across all aspects of the business to launch a product or improve the customer experience. Giving them the exposure to think outside of their area and how to make the entire value chain for the customer better and more efficient from conception to after sales service—I think the G3 program is something we started about seven years ago and it has become a mainstay.
FT: This kind of training helps with tenure, also?
Carson: When can develop our folks more we also get them more enfranchised in Mohawk by investing in them along the way. It has certainly helped the business, but it has helped in retaining key folks for sure.
FT: What can the industry do as a whole to grow leaders?
Carson: Get the word out. We do programs with Savannah College of Art & Design. If you’re in textiles, how many businesses can you be in anymore that are designed in the United States, produced in the United States—where you can actually walk out to a plant and see it come to creation, make the tweaks—marketed and sold here? Soup to nuts, you have a fully integrated business. There are not a lot of those. Flooring is one of those that walk on every day. People don’t think about it as a business but it’s everywhere. It’s large, its enduring, it’s trendy, it’s fashion, it’s performance oriented.
We have to create value for our dealers for our partners and our employees to make the work more interesting and enriching. The leaders that can keep that in balance tend to be the most successful.