Since Darcy Horn Davenport stepped into a leadership role at Emeryville, California-based Premier Nutrition, sales have soared, climbing 24% in 2017. Her secret? A culture of empowerment that’s led to lunchtime yoga classes and a bring-your-dog-to-work policy.
Davenport shared her initial reluctance about certain initiatives—and how she became a believer—with Chief Executive.
Q: Premier launched several employee-driven workplace initiatives during your leadership tenure. Was that purposeful?
A: Those things were organically added over the course of the last three years. One of the first things I did was work on creating a purpose for the company. We had four brands that had similarities, but we didn’t have a guiding light as the purpose of the company. So we developed that, and it is all about bringing good energy to the world through our products and the way we treat our customers and our employees. These programs are part of that.
For example, about a year and a half ago, somebody came to me and said, “Hey, we have a lot of employees who have dogs and are very passionate about their dogs. Would you be open to a dog policy where people can bring their dogs to work?” Personally, I’m not a dog person. I’ve never worked in an environment where they had dogs. My first reaction was no. I thought it would be distressing.
Q: Were you thinking, “I’ll let them have their say, and then I’ll say no?”
A: They surprised me with a really thorough proposal that addressed a lot of my concerns. They presented it to our leadership team, and we said, “Fine, let’s do it for three months and see how it goes.”
“There’s actually power in not having the right answers and making sure that everyone else feels the comfort and ability to act as a team.”
Sure enough, it was a success, and we implemented it. And it’s great. Not only is it an incredible retention tool for employees who bring their dogs in, but there’s a sense of good energy. People like petting the dogs.
Q: It’s interesting to me that your initial reaction was “no” and yet you were open to having your mind changed. That’s unusual.
A: It’s unusual, but it happens a lot around here. One of the things I’m proud of is that this culture is not my culture. This is the company’s culture, and I always impress on people that it’s everyone’s responsibility to help create it, foster it, build it and make it a place where we all want to work.
I never pictured myself in the CEO role because I had preconceived notions of a CEO being someone who called all the shots, always had to have the right answers and was the center of attention—which is not me. But I’ve realized what my leadership style is and how I can make that work within our company. It’s not about me. It’s about creating an environment where people feel empowered. There’s actually power in not having the right answers and making sure that everyone else feels the comfort and ability to act as a team. That’s a foundation of the culture here now.
Q: Do you think these policies—yoga at lunch and dogs in the office—have had a material impact on the company?
A: Since we’ve focused on building the culture, our results have skyrocketed. We are the highest-grossing division within Post Holdings, with over $700 million in net sales last year. For me, the best barometer is employee satisfaction and [succeeding at] becoming certified as a great place to work in 2017.
Q: As the CEO of a division, do you ever get pushback from your parent company about the policies you’ve put in place?
A: Post Holdings’s philosophy is that its divisions know what they’re doing, and it doesn’t try to synergize too much across divisions. So we’ve never gotten any pushback. That might be different if our results weren’t as great as they are, but as of now Post is incredibly supportive.