John Edelman’s Next Chapter

CTC&G sits down with Edelman to discuss his most recent move.
Vw Pix

A 1977 VW Bus sporting the Heller logo is helping spread the word about the brand.

Having spent 14 years at his family business (Edelman Leather)—including six as president and CEO— John Edelman’s leadership approach was defined by his family principles of authenticity and “doing well by doing good.” After 14 years, he sold the business to Knoll and then purchased and revitalized Design Within Reach with his longtime friend and collaborator John McPhee before selling that to Herman Miller in 2019. He is also the cofounder of beverage brand Fourth & Pride vodka, which donates 5 percent of its profits to LGBTQ+ organizations, fully integrating his business acumen with his lifelong advocacy work. In 2014, CTC&G awarded Edelman our Innovator Award. We sat down with him recently to hear about his plans for his latest acquistion—the iconic brand Heller.

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What do you look for in a company that you might be interested in acquiring?
I look for a brand that’s ahead of its business. That way we can really see potential. It has to be authentic; it has to be of heirloom quality. If those are in place, it sometimes can be interesting to see what the opportunities might be.

What were the positives and negatives about buying Heller for you?
Right now, it’s all positives about buying Heller. I respect Alan, who is a friend. It’s pure potential. If I had to say there are any negatives, it would be that there are no systems in place. So, we are building from the ground up. I find it incredibly exciting and honestly, it’s a total positive.

In a few words, what does the brand represent?
Accessible. Iconic. Modern.

How well known was Heller among designers, architects and consumers when you purchased the company? Do you plan to expand its presence in the market? If so, how?
I think Heller strikes a chord not only in architects and designers but also regular consumers when the name is mentioned. “Hellerware” was part of many people’s childhoods. There’s a huge push to bring it back. [Streetwear brand] Supreme loves Heller. We did a program with them two years ago before we joined, and we’ll do one again in the spring. This collaboration appeals to the next generation that might be unaware of Heller, and we’ll be looking to other designers as well. We’ve hired rep groups across the country. We already have eight rep groups signed up and we’re doing heavy social media. If you’ve seen the Heller bus—a 1977 Volkswagen bus wrapped in the Heller logo—we’re using that also to bring some awareness to the excitement of the brand. I think designers always want new, so new will be coming. We’re working full speed at bringing it right to the front of designers’ and architects’ minds.

Multiple Colored Twist

Gehry Left Twist Cubes add pops of color.

Since 1971, Heller worked with some of the leading architects and designers to create innovative furniture. Will this program be expanding under your leadership?
We’re already working with some designers, and we’ll be launching product on a regular cadence. That’s one of the most fun things that I get to do in business—work with designers and tell their stories and market their products. I think that you’ll be super excited to see what we launch in the next 6, 12, 18 months. It’s a total focus.

Heller was seen as an innovative company for its designs and method of production. Will you expand these two areas?
Of course. You know we will be extremely innovative in what we launch in terms of new designs. I think we have to stand out in a crowded marketplace. I am not worried about it at all. We will incorporate the newest technologies where applicable, or we will go old school if it lends itself to great functional product. Get ready! You will see A LOT of innovative, new designs coming forward.

What excites you about the future for Heller?
It’s all up, man! I think the future is purely bright, and I get up every morning incredibly excited to tackle the next Heller adventure.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Next Chapter.