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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David R. Hayworth, February 6, 1997. Interview I-0099. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Competing to build open-office systems

Hayworth describes the advent of the open-plan office system, in which workers sit at partitioned desks rather than in walled offices. Hayworth Roll and Panel was ready to compete in this arena by 1980.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David R. Hayworth, February 6, 1997. Interview I-0099. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DOROTHY GAY DARR:
How did you handle the design process? Did Alma, for example, hire designers or did you use them on a consulting basis?
DAVID R. HAYWORTH:
We had both; we had both in-house designers and designers we would handle, I mean, excuse me, employ for more of the upper-end lines. As you know we made all price ranges, but as years went on our concentration was more and more toward the upper-end, particularly when we got into manufacturing the open plan office furniture, which was becoming a very hot item in the '70s and '80s. We had to hire professional designers to design a line of, a total, complete line for us of the open plan system.
DOROTHY GAY DARR:
Talk about that a little bit; what that—define it and tell me a something about it.
DAVID R. HAYWORTH:
Well, construction costs like everything else were going up, and there was—this concept of the open plan originated with an industrial designer in Germany; this would have been sometime in the early to mid 70s, early 70s. And his last name was Werner, I believe, Von Werner. I could trace that name, but—it's not right in my head. But anyway, he was the—he developed the concept of the open plan system, and the theory behind it is that you could install partitions so much less expensively than solid walls. And from these partitions you could attach tops of the size that was required; it wasn't, it didn't have, you know—it wasn't like it was manufactured and this was what it was, you know. You could specify on a job the size and also what the pedestal would contain. Obviously, a person in the secretarial area needed one type of pedestal, an executive would need another type, someone operating a computer would need another type, so that gave a great deal of flexibility. And another key thing to this concept was, okay, a year or two down the road you didn't need this configuration any more. Say you had a room a hundred feet long by fifty feet wide, just to give you an example, which was full of all of these partitions and different hanging cabinets that all hung off these partitions. You could have an "L" arrangement, if you follow me, or your desktop and then a side top coming off; you could have a "U" arrangement with what we call credenzas in the back with one pedestal, two pedestals, or three all the way across, depending on the particular requirements. In big companies, you know, they're always changing or reconfiguring all that sort of thing; a lot of changing of employees, you know—that was the thing that's a fact of life today. Well, right at this point of time, from what I read and hear, employees are not doing so much changing of their jobs—which is one reason that inflation stays so low, because they fear of losing jobs. That wasn't true in the '80s, as you well know.
DOROTHY GAY DARR:
It gave great flexibility.
DAVID R. HAYWORTH:
It gave you all kinds of flexibilities; you could totally reconfigure a whole area and it wouldn't even resemble the way it started out.
DOROTHY GAY DARR:
And you could do it cheaper.
DAVID R. HAYWORTH:
Oh, yeah. These panels were very sophisticated the way they were designed, because they had to support all of these attachments that you were going to hang on them, and had to be designed so that they would accept these cabinets or wall units, whatever they might be; they would hang so that there was no problem of stability. All these things—it was very sophisticated, but we realized that in order to be competitive in the market place that this was the coming thing. And the idea of closed offices and a desk like you traditionally think of—an office that was going by the board. And now today, even the most modest manufacturers—not manufacturers, but whoever they might be in business—has gone to this type of office furniture.
DOROTHY GAY DARR:
It's the norm now.
DAVID R. HAYWORTH:
It's the norm rather than the exception, you're exactly right. So that's another major change that's taking place in the office furniture industry.
DOROTHY GAY DARR:
And Alma started dealing with this change in the early '70s?
DAVID R. HAYWORTH:
They began to develop it and got it really going sometime between 1975 and 1980, so by 1980 we were ready to compete in the market place in the office plan system.
DOROTHY GAY DARR:
Were you leaders in this plan in the United States? You said it came from a German industrial designer?
DAVID R. HAYWORTH:
I think we were one of the leaders. Knoll, for instance, had a system. Now, unlike—Steelcase had a big system. See, their's was all metal and so it depended—our market, I guess a big job—in other words, for the very lower echelon you might have metal office furniture partitions, but it moved on up to middle management; top management, always preferred wood over metal. It was, you know, a psychological thing that wood was more upper end and metal was more for common clerical—eliminate the word common, just the clerical help. You know what I mean. But all the major manufacturers were getting on the band wagon, so to speak, as we were. Some before us, some after us, but they were all smart enough to see the need and—let's see, your question was were you the leader? No, I think that would be—I don't think that would totally be accurate to say we were the leader; that's not true. There were other people in the office partition business—or open plan system, as it's called—before we were. But we were smart enough to see the growing popularity and the need for it, and that's the reason we had a very sophisticated system design for us to manufacture. And these panels were all postered and the consumer had a selection of various fabric and colors. Everything was coordinated, you know, with various woods; some were made out of walnut, oak—oak was very popular for an office plan. Walnut was the wood of choice almost throughout the office furniture industry. Wood office furniture industry. And the metal people were smart enough to see the growing requirement of wood, so that's the reason they got into the wood manufacturing wood business, also.