Knud Erik Hansen: The Man Behind Carl Hansen & Søn’s Transformation

The AH Outdoor series marks Carl Hansen & Søns' successful foray into outdoor furniture.


June 5, 2023

Knud Erik Hansen, CEO of Carl Hansen & Søn, carries a remarkable legacy. Born in Denmark in 1956, he was destined to take the reins of a company that his grandfather founded. Raised in an environment of intricate craftsmanship, Erik developed a keen understanding of the family business, guided by his father, Ejnar Hansen, and later, his mother.

In 2002 Erik took over Carl Hansen & Søn from his older brother, entering a new phase in his life and the company’s history. His parents, particularly his mother, significantly influenced his management style. After his father’s passing his mother took charge, becoming a driving force in the company’s growth and instilling in Erik a relentless work ethic and commitment to the family’s legacy. “They ran the company with the spirit of the good craftsman,” he recalls. “Our products were, and still are, made with a love for the material and respect for the design.”

Erik’s perspective was also shaped by the 22 years he spent living in Hong Kong and China. This exposure to diverse cultures and business practices broadened his understanding of the global market, further equipping him to steer Carl Hansen & Søn toward international expansion.

Under his leadership the company has made strategic acquisitions, including renowned Danish furniture manufacturers Rud. Rasmussen and P. Jeppesens Møbelfabrik, adding to the company’s prestige and portfolio.

Having strengthened his family’s legacy within the indoor furniture sector, Erik turned his sights toward outdoor living. The AH Outdoor series marks the company’s successful foray into this domain. “We want to show the world that there’s a different way to enjoy the outdoors. We can do that with high-quality, sustainably produced furniture,” Erik says. This collection, inspired by the principles of celebrated Danish architect Alfred Homann, is testament to Erik’s vision—combining simplicity, functionality, and detailed design with sustainable practices.

Erik proudly reflects on the spectacular reception the AH Outdoor series has received, especially during the pandemic. He believes their dedication to quality and sustainability has struck a chord with customers seeking to enhance their outdoor living spaces. “Each piece is a marriage of craftsmanship, sustainable practices, and the charm of Danish design,” he says.

Excess wood is transformed into decorative plates and remaining wood waste serves as a heating source for the factory and neighboring homes.

Sustainability at Carl Hansen & Søn extends to their innovative production processes. The company has adopted a waste management strategy Erik lovingly refers to as “their own version of a fairy tale.” In their Danish factory waste is repurposed—excess wood is transformed into decorative plates and remaining wood waste serves as a heating source for the factory and neighboring homes.

This approach caught the attention of the local municipality, leading to a unique partnership. Instead of importing expensive wood chips for heating, they adopted Erik’s proposal to use the factory’s waste wood, resulting in significant cost savings and demonstrating efficient resource utilization.

Carl Hansen and Son Factory in Gelsted

One of the most unexpected turns in Erik’s journey was the company’s expansion into Vietnam. Following a serendipitous encounter between Erik’s son and a soon-to-retire factory owner, Carl Hansen & Søn acquired a new factory. With a dedicated workforce of 700, this facility plays a critical role in the production and timely delivery of the AH Outdoor series.

Knud Erik Hansen. Photo courtesy of Carl Hansen & Søn

Under Erik’s leadership Carl Hansen & Søn is poised to increase its global retail presence. He believes dedicated stores provide the ideal platform to showcase the brand’s finely crafted products and their embodiment of Danish craftsmanship. Even as they expand Erik underscores the importance of preserving their Danish manufacturing roots—an element he views as integral to their identity and the value of their products.