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Dedon offers a global example, inspiration

Dedon is a German manufacturer of outdoor furniture with a French president and designers spread out among 15 countries. Its U.S. marketing firm Janus et Cie is based in Los Angeles and its factory is located in Cebu, a beautiful island in the Philippines, about 300 miles south of Manila.

For you who have read Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, Dedon is a perfect example of the new global economy taking place in the furniture industry.

Dedon is also an example of a well-run company all of us can draw inspiration from. The company runs on what they refer to as the "Bobby Principle." After suffering a serious field injury, Bobby Dekeyser, a professional soccer player for Bayern Munich, left his career in 1990 at age 26 to pursue a dream of creating outdoor living spaces. While recovering in the hospital he recalled a visit to a furniture market in Cebu, which is known for its craftsmanship, particularly in wicker furniture.

Bobby's family owned a plastics manufacturing plant specializing in high quality synthetic products. Bobby's goal was to create outdoor furniture that could withstand rain, wind and the sun. With his family's expertise he developed a type of fiber called Hularo, a polyethylene-based fiber. It is environmentally friendly, non-toxic and 100% recyclable. It looks like wicker, is woven by hand like wicker and can be produced in any color fashion trends dictate.

After I visited the Cebu market, I was welcomed to the Dedon factory by Herve Lampert, its youthful French president. He led me to the second floor where I was greeted by about 50 young Filipino women, dressed in their blue factory uniforms and beaming with big smiles. I was asked to give a short speech and was rewarded with a shell necklace bearing a Dedon pendant. The ladies then returned to work and Lampert explained they love to greet visitors.

I've been through hundreds of factories all over the world during my career but I sensed by my first impressions there was something different about Dedon. Lampert said the "Bobby Principle" means being the kind of entrepreneur who gives others the freedom to participate in the entrepreneurial process, which in turn allows them to develop their own passion and joy. The company works hard to provide high social standards for its employees. They assemble daily for morning devotions and hear a short inspirational speech.

Dedon employs 2,900 workers or partners, who make about $6 a day, 30% higher than Cebu's minimum wage. They work six days a week, receive free bus transportation, three wholesome meals and free health care.

It takes a weaver two to 10 days to weave each chair or sofa. Usually only men do this work as it takes a lot of strength to pull the synthetic fiber tight through the woven frame. Each design, therefore, is a unique, handmade original. Dedon's philosophy is to "achieve harmony between a person's work and their nature because only a satisfied person can make a comfortable chair."

When I had lunch at the factory with the management team, I could see its friendship and mutual respect. This youthful team gave an example of a business creating a product unique in design and materials, not price sensitive and where the employee is just as important as the bottom line. I hope our furniture industry, as it enters the global market, will attract more enthusiastic, idealistic manufacturers like Dedon.

One of Dedon's 2,900 'partners,' below, weaves the Hularo fiber into a chair. The strenuous task can take two to 10 days to complete.

This futuristic sofa-island, by designer Richard Frinier, sits on casters that can turn with the sun. The cloth canopy, when raised, turns the sofa into a luxurious, roofed beach chair to offer protection from the elements.

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