CEO Tells Employees Complaining About Canceled Bonuses To 'Leave Pity City' After She Got $4M In Bonuses Last Year

It's amazing that she wasn't even aware of her own privilege.

ceo speaking to employees on zoom @conzmoleman/Twitter

By now all company executives and business owners should know that their words and actions have power. A few sentences can destroy a brand or career. But a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a company called MillerKnoll, formerly Herman Miller, got more publicity than she bargained for when she made what she thought was an inspirational speech during a Zoom meeting.

A video recorded at an internal meeting at the company has been circulating and it's not painting the CEO in the best light.


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MillerKnoll CEO Andi Owen defended her choice to cancel employees' bonuses.

According to NPR, Owen made $4 million in bonuses in 2022. For the fiscal year ending in May 2022, she allegedly took home $3.9 million on top of her fixed salary of $1.1 million.

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In the company video that was intended to be private, Owen started by relaying some questions she had received from employees such as, “How can we stay motivated if we’re not going to get a bonus?” The embattled CEO, clearly unhappy with the inquiries said that some were nice while others, not so much.

She went on to advise employees to “focus on the things that we can control.” Owen insinuated that the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, and bank issues were the cause of the canceled performance bonuses to justify the decision she had made.

She told workers to “Stay in front of our customers. Provide the best customer service you can. Get our orders out the door. Treat each other well. Be kind. Be respectful. Focus on the future because it will be bright.”

Owen said that instead of asking about bonuses, employees should be trying to figure out where they would get the $26 million the company needed to turn things around “and not what you’re gonna do if you don’t get a bonus.” Her demeanor became more aggressive as she leaned in, looking for confirmation that people do as she asked. She questioned then said, “Can I get some commitment for that? I would appreciate that.”


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But the CEO wasn’t done yet. She ended her ‘uplifting’ speech with a quote from an “old boss” who once told her, “You can visit Pity City, but you can’t live there” before closing with, “So people, leave Pity City. Let’s get it done. Thank you. Have a great day.”

Perhaps the “Boom!” hand gestures at the end meant Owen thought she’d had a ‘drop the mic’ moment, but it wasn’t long before the footage leaked, and utter chaos ensued.

Twitter was in a tizzy with people commenting endlessly on the audacity and privilege of the CEO. One man thoughtfully suggested, “She could’ve divided her bonus to the employees, and they would’ve each gotten about $600 each. Instead, she kept it for herself leaving the 11000+ employees out in the cold. Horrible leadership. Absolutely disgraceful.”


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Andi Owen released an apology after facing backlash over her comments.

“I want to be transparent and empathetic, and as I continue to reflect on this instance, I feel terrible that my rallying cry seemed insensitive,” she said in an email sent to employees. “What I’d hoped would energize the team to meet a challenge we’ve met many times before landed in a way that I did not intend and for that I am sorry.”

She went on to say: “Nothing will lessen the power and strength of our collective team. My appreciation for each of you is huge and I will continue to do everything I can to help us meet our shared goals. Thank you for your hard work, your grace, and for the commitment you show to one another and our company every single day.”


Unfortunately for Owen, her ‘Pity City’ Ted Talk will probably live in infamy at the company forever. People can be forgiving, but a person in leadership taking such a disrespectful position about the concerns of employees has likely already done irreparable damage.

Transformational leadership is not a forced thing, it’s about choice. It is not ordering people to ‘shut up and work’ but instead motivates them to put their best foot forward by identifying with them and as Owen herself said, leading by example. If she did take a hefty bonus while the people in the trenches lost theirs, she is definitely not taking her own advice.

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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.