Innovation Heroes: Spinning up a new legacy for an old brand
How Kenmore's new CEO is revitalizing a 100-year-old company
Kenmore appliances may sound like your grandmother’s brand. And that would make sense – the name first appeared on sewing machines in 1913. Kenmore sold everyday appliances, such as fridges, washing machines, and vacuums, exclusively at Sears department stores. But the brand went through a tipping point when Sears declared bankruptcy.
On the latest episode of Innovation Heroes, a podcast by SHI, host Ed McNamara talks to CEO Sri Solur about how he’s using software development principles and agile business methods to modernize the 100-year-old company.
The brand has been revitalized, doubling licensing revenue and scaling to thousands of new locations and online, all in just eighteen months.
“When I took over the helm of the company 18 months ago, it would have been impossible to get a Kenmore range, dishwasher, and washer/dryer. If you walked into retail locations last year, even if your life depended on it, it would be really hard for you to find a Kenmore product on the shelf,” says Solur. “This year, Kenmore products will be available in 5,200 locations, including Target.”
Solur says he’s always been a product creator at heart, thanks in part to his mother’s influence. In the 1980s, they’d build vacuum tube-based radios together in India. He went on to create and market wearable technology and robotics, including smart products for Hugo Boss, Ferrari, and Coach, and spent 20 years at Hewlett Packard. Solur, a first-time CEO, has updated Kenmore for a new generation with a focus on clean energy and sustainability.
“It’s a really well-known brand, a household name,” he says. “This was such a big role in terms of being handed this brand – I’m the custodian, the guardian. I’m someone who will have to nurture this brand for the next generations. So I was afraid and excited at the same time.”
Solur leverages the techniques he brought from the technical world at Kenmore, including leaning in on quality and speed of operations. He also talks about his advice to other legacy companies for appealing to younger generations, including through energy security and decarbonization initiatives.
Listen to the full conversation to learn more about innovation at Kenmore. You can also find episodes on SHI’s Resource Hub, Spotify, and other major podcast platforms, and on YouTube in a video format.