By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Oct. 19, 2018
The new corporate headquarters of Interface Inc. is hard to miss.
The building — directly across from the MARTA Arts Center Station on West Peachtree Street in Midtown — is wrapped in recyclable polyester with images of large trees.
“We wrapped the building with a forest to use Mother Nature as our guide,” said Jay Gould, who joined Interface in 2015 as chief operating officer and became its CEO in 2017.
Interface is a maker of carpet tile with about 3,100 employees and just under $1 billion in sales in 2017. In September, it relocated its headquarters from Paces Ferry Road in Vinings, where it had been for 25 years, to Midtown as a way to reinforce its commitment to the environment.
The company has been on the cutting edge of corporate sustainability since its founder, the late Ray Anderson, had an epiphany in 1994 about the critical need for companies to embrace environmental practices for their own financial health as well as the well-being of the planet. Anderson passed away in 2011.
It’s a mandate that Gould has embraced.
“Ray used to drive a Bentley, and when he got serious about sustainability, he began driving a Prius,” Gould said. “I did it one step better. I take MARTA.”
Gould lives within walking distance of the Buckhead MARTA Station, and it takes him 16 minutes to travel two stops to the new headquarters building – which is referred to as “Base Camp.” Carrying his backpack, Gould rides MARTA almost every day.
Back in 2015, Interface began exploring the possibility of consolidating its Atlanta offices and showroom because its leases were coming due in 2018. Originally, it was looking for a 70,000-square-foot building for its 160 corporate employees.
Instead, it decided to work with a developer to buy a 40,000-square-foot building that had been built in the 1950s.
“This building was scary spooky when we first looked at it. It literally was Class D office building that was dark inside with low ceilings,” said Gould, who questioned whether they could fit its workforce in the building at 1280 West Peachtree St.. “The main reason I chose this building was MARTA. I wanted our workforce of the future to commute on transit.”
With the help of JLL, Perkins+Will, MSTSD and Parkside Partners, the building has been transformed into an innovative environment with lots of light, open work spaces, a roof garden, a cistern to catch rain water and an expansive staircase that serves as an amphitheater for company gatherings and presentations.
It is vying for the building to become a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum – using 48 percent less energy than code requires.
The company is also focused on creating a healthy work environment for its employees, providing wellness and restorative rooms for relaxation and meditation.
“We believe the best building is the one you don’t have to build,” said Gould, who has traded his “massive” office that he had in Vinings for a cubicle, which he calls “a corner office without the office.”
The goal is to create a more open workspace where people are encouraged to speak to each other directly rather than by technology.
Gould, 59, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, acknowledges that he may have been destined to culminate his career in Atlanta.
He graduated from the University of Dayton, and he received an MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked for The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO), helping globalize its Minute Maid and Dasani brands in Japan and eventually moving to Atlanta in 2000 to serve as its chief innovation officer.
Gould left Coca-Cola to become an executive with Campbell Soups. But he moved back to Atlanta in 2006 to become an executive with Newell Rubbermaid, which was then based in Atlanta. He was one of two internal candidates to succeed Mark Ketchum as CEO when the job was given to Michael Polk, who was serving on the company’s board.
That’s when Gould became CEO of American Standard Brands, re-energizing the 138-year-old brand and leading a financial turnaround. When American Standard was sold to a Japanese company, Gould contemplated retiring.
But then he got a call about possibly joining Interface as its COO and heir apparent to Daniel Hendrix, who had followed Anderson as the company’s CEO.
“Dan really wanted to know the character of the person to whom he was turning over the keys of Ray’s company,” Gould said. “After my two-year job interview, I did get the job.”
Hendrix, who now serves as chairman of Interface, embraced Gould’s entrepreneurial leadership style.
“We wanted Jay to take Interface to the next level,” Hendrix said.
Gould said the company’s growth was stagnant when he joined. In 2014, its earnings per share were 62 cents; last year it earnings nearly doubled to $1.18. The company now has a market capitalization of $1.2 billion, and it is expanding into multiple flooring options in addition to its traditional modular carpet tiles. In August, Interface acquired Nora Systems, a global leader in rubber flooring, in a deal that was valued at $400 million.
Under the late Ray Anderson, the company had a goal to be carbon neutral by 2020.
Gould said the company reached that milestone earlier this year.
“Now the goal is to become carbon negative by 2040,” Gould said. “We calculate our carbon footprint, and then we buy offsets with reforestation, solar and wind energy to offset our small carbon footprint. By 2040, we will be able to have zero carbon offsets.”
Gould views his job at Interface as his last – saying it will take four to five years to accomplish its transformation.
“I’m at the peak of my game,” said Gould, who has three grown children. “Three years ago, we sold our big house in Buckhead and moved to high-density living.
“I wanted to end my career by giving back. What better way of giving back than putting Ray’s company back on track.”