Michael Pollner jokes that the opportunity to be general counsel for a NYSE-listed public company came much sooner than expected—and maybe before he was ready. Upon entering law school, he thought he’d be a criminal defense attorney, spending his days “defending the innocent and wrongly accused.” Pollner’s career shook out much differently than he anticipated. In 2007, at just 34 years old, he became vice president, general counsel, and secretary for Knoll.
Knoll is a leading designer and manufacturer of office furniture products, textiles, and leathers. Pollner joined the company as assistant general counsel in 2005 and made his ascent quickly, in part because of his rapport with clients and his ability to build strong relationships with all departments of the company, from HR to sales to management.
“If you don’t know where people are coming from, if you don’t understand them, you can’t give good advice,” Pollner says. “You want people to come to you for advice often—it’s basically your job. If you stop getting those calls, there’s a problem.”
For the past six years, Knoll has continued to forge relationships with famous designers while also making four acquisitions of high-end, high-design companies. This is why Pollner says it’s almost a disservice to refer to Knoll’s products as “just furniture.” These acquisitions allowed Knoll to expand its services beyond the company’s core office business model. “You’re hunting for an opportunity to add value, and admittedly, four acquisitions in six years does sound like a ‘spree,’ but you have to keep in mind that for the 10 years prior, we didn’t do any,” Pollner says. “This has been very good for Knoll, and it’s also been strategic.”
Pollner points to the February 2014 acquisition of luxury-design brand Holly Hunt Enterprises Inc. for $95 million as a recent acquisition that put Knoll where it wants to be, cementing its place among high-end consumers and designers. So far the collaboration with Holly Hunt is proving to be a good fit, which Pollner says is a relief. Generally speaking, one of the biggest challenges in acquisitions is ensuring that the two companies fit together both strategically and culturally.
“What’s key is understanding the risk you’re taking on as a buyer,” Pollner says. “It’s best to take a step back and question if your business team is getting what they thought they were getting and making sure they understand the risk they’re assuming. Risk isn’t bad if you understand what it is—and that’s the only way to go into an acquisition.”